Sunday, December 14, 2014

State constitutions, public office and people's belief in God

Edd Doerr (

Roy Torcaso and I were friends. I met him shortly after moving to Maryland in 1966 to work for Americans United. I delivered a eulogy at his memorial service at his Unitarian congregation in Maryland. Roy was a very gutsy guy.  His Supreme Court case, Torcaso v Watkins, was a great victory for church-state separation and religious freedom.

That said, it is important to comment on the Dec 7 NY Times story.

1.      Yes, there are statements mandating certain religious beliefs in order to hold public office in MD and several other state constitutions. However, thanks to the Torcaso ruling, these are all inoperative museum relics,  dead letters. But, then, many state constitutions are crammed with such inoperative relics, such as one state’s ban on a guy kissing a woman in public on a Sunday., and other nonsense.

2.      Can these relics be removed? Very unlikely. And attempts to do so will surely fail. Not only  will they fail, but they could well generate backlash that will actually harm the secularist cause. Further, tinkering with a state constitution could open a real can of worms, whether through a legislatively proposed constitutional amendment or a state constitutional convention. The result could be constitutional changes that divert public funds to faith-based private schools, further restrict abortion rights,  allow “creationism” to be taught on public schools, or cause other mischief.

3.      Let’s note that the US Constitution, Article I, Section 2, still contains language that says that African Americans only count as 3/5 of a person for determining the composition of the House of Representatives. This was rendered inoperative by the 14th Amendment, but it’s still in the Constitution forever.

4.      Attempts to remove these offensive provisions from state constitutions will not only fail but will distract attention and energy from dealing with really important hot issues like climate change, right wing attacks on public education and reproductive choice, the transfer of wealth to the top 1% from the rest of us, and other matters.

5.      Instead of wasting time, energy, money and good will on a lost cause, secularists need to be broadminded and practical enough to work with others across the religio-political spectra to accomplish important  goals on the issues that really count.

(Edd has been a Full time church-state activist for the last 50 yeara)

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