Running for public office? Atheists need not apply

8 states have laws on the books banning atheists

WASHINGTON, D.C. - Attention civically-minded atheists: Thinking of submitting a bid for office? You'll probably want to check your address first.

Eight states - Arkansas, Maryland, Texas, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Mississippi, South Carolina and North Carolina - still have provisions in place that require a belief in God to run for office.

If that sounds completely illegal, that's because it is. While these provisions are no longer enforced, they are still technically on the books - and some have been the law of the land going back to the 1790s.

Theses laws reflect a long-standing distrust of atheists in American culture, and one that many non-believers still live with today.

Although a 1961 Supreme Court decision now makes them technically moot, Dave Muscato, public relations director for American Atheists, says the very existence of these laws creates an environment unwelcome to atheists.

Because atheists are in many instances literally demonized, says Muscato, they are oftentimes viewed as hard to trust and immoral.

The United States is still very much a god-fearing nation.While a growing number of Americans in recent years have identified as religiously unaffiliated, self-avowed atheists or agnostics make up just 6% of the U.S. public, according to a 2012 Pew Research study.

Graphic courtesy Pew Research Center

 

And just like those that came before them, atheists today face many of the same biases. A 2014 Pew poll found 53 percent of Americans believe that it’s necessary to believe in God to be moral.

On the campaign trail, not believing in God can be political poison - a 2012 Gallup poll found 43 percent of voters wouldn’t consider a candidate who is atheist. 

Despite what the law says, at least some atheists are running and even winning elections in these states.

In 2009, Cecil Bothwell was sworn in to the city council in Asheville, N.C., despite blatant opposition invoking the anti-atheist provisions on the books there. 

Almost makes you want to believe in some sort of higher power.

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