Friday, October 13, 2006

A Religious Test for Office in 2006!?

The Texas GOP has decided to "smear" a Democratic nominee for the 6th Court of Appeals. The accusation? He's an atheist. I don't know if calling someone an atheist would be considered a "smear" in civilized society but this is Texas. Of course, who would have thought that we'd be seeing a religious test for office in 2006 in the United States of all places?

The nominee, E. Ben Franks, disputes claims that he's a professed atheist, but really, should he have to dispute a claim that (regardless of its veracity) has absolutely NO bearing on his ability to judge cases fairly and impartially?

Of course, this is Texas. According to article 16 section 1(a) of the Texas state constitution, which prescribes the oath of office, a person taking that oath MUST end it with "so help me G-d." According to article 1 section 4 of the Texas state constitution, a person's religious beliefs cannot exclude him from holding office as long as he acknowledges the "existence of a Supreme Being."

Of course, this is the United States, so the Supreme Court decreed in Torcado v. Watkins (1961) that a religious test for office (such as requiring the acknowledgement of a Supreme Being) was unconstitutional. Surely, requiring an elected or appointed official to acknowledge G-d in the oath of office, thereby calling into question the ability of any atheist or nontheist (such as Buddhists) to honestly take the oath, must also be unconstitutional.

Some of you may say, "Well, it's just words. Say them and get it over with. Why make a fuss?" Well, let's just say there are some precedents a free, civilized nation would do well to avoid repeating. Such as that of the oath of office long used in our "mother country," England.

Until 1858, the oath of office for the British parliament required the phrase "on the true faith of a Christian," a phrase which obviously excluded Jews amongst others. Before that year, three Jews were elected to office but not allowed to take their seats because they could not swear "on the true faith of a Christian."

As in England, Texas politicians are using the wording of the oath to prevent a judicial nominee whose alleged beliefs they don't like from taking office. Is the English example one we wish to follow here in America? I would hope not. Obviously, the oath must go. So too must those who think that someone's religious beliefs or lack thereof are a proper test for their suitability for office. Even if it is Texas.


Blogger Catana said...

I do love that "just say it and get it over with." Might that just be hypocrisy? I was a teen when I glommed on to the realization that I was an atheist (though I still didn't have the word for it)and haven't said the flag pledge or given any other nod to the existence of a bearded puffy cloud on non-being since then.

10:14 AM  
Blogger Melinda Barton said...

I think you have something with the hypocrisy thing. Why encourage any more hypocrisy amongst our politicians than is absolutely necessary?
It seems the very type of person we'd want in office would be the type who would refuse to take the oath if it offended their beliefs. Why wouldn't we want someone who isn't going to pay lip service to something he doesn't believe and is willing to stand up for what he does believe?

3:57 PM  

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