William F. Powers: Atheists barred

May 9, 2012 

Atheists barred

In his May 5 Point of View essay, “The marriage amendment of 1875,” Gene Nichol reminds us that until 1971, when a new charter was adopted, the North Carolina state constitution banned interracial marriages. In the context of such outdated and prejudicial statutes, it might be recalled that until 1835 the state constitution barred Catholics from holding public office.

Article 32 stated: “No Person who shall deny the being of God, or the Truth of the Protestant Religion, or the Divine authority of the Old or New Testaments ... shall be capable of holding any office ... within this State.”

The highly respected Catholic, William Gaston, urged his fellow delegates to the constitutional convention that they follow the federal Constitution and eliminate all religious tests for public office. He had to accept a compromise: one had to be a Christian to serve in public office. Even today, Article VI of the constitution: “Suffrage and Eligibility to Office,” disqualifies “any person who shall deny the being of Almighty God.” Constitutionally, no agnostic or atheist is eligible to serve in public office in this state.

William F. Powers

Chapel Hill

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