Freethought NOW!

Banish de facto religious tests for presidency

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The remark by presidential wannabe Ben Carson that a Muslim shouldn’t be U.S. president on “Meet the Press” yesterday is being roundly — and appropriately — condemned, with news agencies tackling the controversy.

Carson, a retired physician, said: “I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that.”

The Council on American-Islamic Relations correctly called the remarks “un-American,” pointing out that the U.S. Constitution prohibits a religious test for public office. We need to remind public officials who are properly condemning these remarks that it is equally reprehensible that such prejudices exist against the prospect of an atheist president.

Annie Laurie Gaylor outside the recently renovated Freethought Hall, home of FFRF. Photo by Chris Johnson

Polls show that a near majority of Americans would impose such a religious test upon atheist candidates. Yet such poll results have been met with silence, not censure. It’s such a given that Americans would discriminate against atheist public officials that it’s a non-story.

There is indeed bigotry against that hypothetical Muslim presidential candidate. According to the most recent Gallup poll, 40% would not support a “qualified” Muslim candidate. This compares with the 10% of Americans who would refuse to vote for a “well-qualified” Hispanic, Jewish, black, or female candidate. A gay candidate would be rejected by 26%.

But even fewer Americans would vote for an atheist presidential candidate than for a Muslim candidate. Only 58% of Americans would be willing to vote for an atheist for president. We are making strides, however. When Gallup first started asking this question in 1958, only 18% would back a nontheist. And this year, for the first time, an atheist candidate wasn’t at the bottom of the totem poll — a “socialist” candidate was at the bottom of the barrel with only 47% willing to consider voting for such a candidate.

But we’ve never seen a national debate or dialog over the de facto religious test that is clearly imposed on nonreligious candidates for any public office, not just president. That is why we hardly have any elected official coming out of the religion closet. It’s still considered political suicide.

Yet even in the Republic of Ireland, with its ties to the Roman Catholic Church, there are always several members of parliament who are openly nonreligious. That’s the norm in many parliaments in the European Union. Many famous and past leaders of other countries have been nonreligious, including Nehru and Clemenceau. In recent history, atheists and agnostics have been elected as president or prime minister in Uruguay, Australia and Chile, among other nations.

When will it start to become socially unacceptable to diss atheists and agnostics publicly in the United States of America?

With nearly one in four U.S. adults today identifying as nonreligious, the other question I continue to ask is: When will presidential and other candidates start wooing us, the seculars?

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17 Responses

  1. “When will presidential and other candidates start wooing us, the seculars?”
    In our current political climate? Most likely when a few secular billionaires go very public on the major media outlets stating that they’re fed up with all the religious noise during campaigns.
    Until then, we need to work on changing the political climate by contacting our representatives and candidates to remind them we’re out here, we’re an increasing demographic, and we vote.

  2. He MAY have been suggesting we not vote for a Muslim candidate,
    not that they he be barred from running. That would not be illegal, of course.

    1. As in “I would not advocate that we put a (current GOP candidate) in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that.” could mean they shouldn’t be barred from running, but we shouldn’t vote for any of them?

      1. I was just saying that Carson MAY have been telling us not to vote for Muslims, not to ban them from running.

    2. Really?
      When written in response to the content of the article, your comment is very deceptive. You have built from man, a straw. You seem to be practicing the art of christianity, hiding the truth behind a thin curtain.

      1. “—would impose such a test for office…”

        What ‘test’? Carson isn’t clear on that.

        {What you (wrongly) described my doing
        would be a skill, not an art. The two words are often confused.}

        1. Consider a search on the phrase “art of deception”.

          The two words are used somewhat interchangeably, depending on the circumstances. Personally, I wouldn’t consider deception a skill because it produces a negative impact on societal relations. I find deceptive people distasteful. I am occasionally deceptive but, even then, I still find it distasteful with the hope that I will find a better way to express myself the next time.

          Where did you get the phrase you quoted? I don’t see it in the context you seem to imply.

          A definition that may be useful:
          Existing in actuality, especially when contrary to or not established by law

          1. The phrase is in the 4th paragraph.

            There are skills needed to produce fine art, but they aren’t the finished product.

            A skill is a skill, no matter the intent.

            Carson’s use of the word ‘put’ is ambiguous.

          2. The test is the de facto religious test that the christian places on candidates. Which is why I provided the definition in my prior comment.

            You can make up your own definitions but, I am not required to accept them. A skill to me needs to produce a positive societal outcome you don’t need to accept that either however, the use of the word ‘skill’ is most frequently used in reference to a positive attribute. For instance, I don’t consider child abuse a skill as I don’t consider deception a skill either. It’s like ‘lack’ is most frequently used to describe something that isn’t possessed but is desired, which is why I don’t like to see atheism described that way, particularly not by atheists.

            No, Carson’s use of the word ‘put’ is not ambiguous as there is only one way, through normal process, to ‘put’ an elective office holder. As an aside, in your prior comment you associated ‘test’ with Carson now you are associating ‘put’ with Carson, you’ve deceptively moved the goal, I don’t consider that skillful but, likely deceptive as it occurred without explanation.

  3. “When will presidential and other candidates start wooing us, the seculars?”
    When we meet their price I’m afraid.

  4. There is no federal law now that prevents a person of any religion from running for federal office, including the presidency. No mater how distasteful, we should greatly fear legislation against personal opinion.

    1. Legislation against personal opinion would indeed be alarming, but I see no suggestion in this article that there should be such legislation.

      1. You are correct. However, I assume, perhaps incorrectly, that Ms. Gaylor titled the piece. That title suggests much more than the “isn’t it about time” tone of the piece itself. To be safe I just wanted to offer a warning.

        1. What, exactly, is it that you’re warning against? The Constitution prohibits any religious test for any public office, but clearly, public opinion is imposing a de facto test. So ” isn’t it about time” that the public is reminded, loudly and frequently, that there is no such test?