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Frank Bernheisel: The View From Here
Frank Bernheisel
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Frank Bernheisel
Posted 07.18.14
Just Outside Washington

FRANK BERNHEISEL

That religion test

The US Constitution prohibits the government from enacting "any law respecting an establishment of religion" and expressly provides that "no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States."

The Washington Post reported recently that eight states -- Arkansas, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas -- have constitutions that expressly prohibit individuals who do not believe in God from holding public office.

We thought this was settled in the 1961 Supreme Court case -- Torcaso v. Watkins. In this case, Roy Torcaso had been denied a commission as a Notary Public, because he would not declare his belief in God, as required by the Maryland constitution. The Supreme Court, in an opinion by Justice Hugo Black, unanimously held the Maryland provision unconstitutional.

Recently, five justices of the Supreme Court held that for-profit corporations have a right to religious freedom that trumps individual religious freedom. Further, the Court held that the Greece, NY Town Council can begin its governmental sessions with sectarian Christian prayers overriding the religious freedom of the assembled citizens.

Given that the Court has been finding new religious freedoms to support, what would be the outcome of a case from one of the eight states similar to Torcasso? It certainly seems that in the Court's collective mind that some religious freedoms are more free than others.

Apologies to George Orwell.

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