Local atheists lobby to change “second-class citizen” status

Apr 6, 2015

By Tanner Hancock

Atheists, clergymen and duelists may not hold public office in Tennessee, at least according to the state’s constitution.

Adopted in 1796, Tennessee’s founding document is no stranger to outdated laws. Past provisions of the constitution outlawed both integrated schools and interracial marriages. Similarly, Article IX of the state constitution still prohibits atheists from holding office, despite a 1961 Supreme Court ruling that effectively rendered those provisions unconstitutional.

For atheists like Todd Stiefel, chair of the national atheist advocacy group Openly Secular, the present wording of the state’s constitution represents the larger problem of discrimination against atheists occurring across the country.

“I view it as a slap in the face for anybody in the state of Tennessee,” Stiefel said, noting that he feels the unconstitutionality of the provisions is largely beside the point. “Having provisions like this codified in the state constitution tells non-believers that your government thinks you’re a second-class citizen.”

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5 comments on “Local atheists lobby to change “second-class citizen” status

  • Is there something in the constitution about a “religious test”? Surely excluding atheists would contradict.

    I could hardly imagine an honest judge ruling this provisions was constitutional. The problem is the court has some very unscrupulous men on it. If the Republicans win the next election, they will choose perhaps 4 new justices and hence corrupt the court for the next 40 years.

    There is also the matter of funding a challenge, and having a concrete case to test the law.

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