American flag waving in blue skyWritten by Don Byrd

Article VI of the U.S. Constitution clearly states, “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” It is one of the few direct references to religion in our founding documents, outside the First Amendment.

Despite that admonition, several state constitutions contain provisions that purport to deny atheists the right to hold public office.

The Tennessean reports on current efforts to rescind those laws:

Sarah Green remembers feeling like she didn’t belong in her own state after discovering that Tennessee’s constitution bars people who don’t believe in God from holding public office.

The 30-year-old Hermitage woman came out as an atheist almost a year ago and is adding her voice to a national push to take provisions that discriminate against the nonreligious off the books. The effort is spearheaded by Openly Secular, which issued a report late last year finding that eight states, including Tennessee, had similar language in their constitutions.

The other states, according to the report, are Arkansas, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas.

What good is the freedom to believe if we don’t also have an equal freedom not to believe? The Founding Fathers recognized that any religious restriction on elected office is an affront both to our democracy and our religious freedoms. Maybe it’s time for these states to follow suit.