"The following persons shall be disqualified for office: First, any person who shall deny the being of Almighty God." (The Constitution of North Carolina, Article 6, Section 8)
So says the state constitution of my home state, North Carolina. Perhaps even more chilling is the Preamble of the state constitution which states,
"We, the people of the State of North Carolina, grateful to Almighty God, the Sovereign Ruler of Nations, for the preservation of the American Union and the existence of our civil, political and religious liberties, and acknowledging our dependence upon Him for the continuance of those blessings to us and our posterity, do, for the more certain security thereof and for the better government of this State, ordain and establish this Constitution."
In the last 18 months I have become known on the campus where I teach (Elon University) as the "atheist activist", and as such I receive the occasional interesting email. Last week I was contacted by the director of the Elon Poll giving me a heads up about some new national (USAToday) data on religiosity. I took that occasion to talk to him about putting a few questions about religion onto the next poll, and he was very receptive. I am happy to report that next month (February 2010) a random sample of North Carolinians will be asked what religion (if any) they believe in and whether or not they support our state constitution's disqualification for office of non-believers.
Most readers of this blog will be aware that North Carolina is but one of many (6) states in the US which have such restrictions prohibiting non-believers from holding public office.
These planned poll questions are particularly timely in light of the controversy over the case of Cecil Bothwell, councilperson-elect, in Asheville, NC. There are many in his local community that believe that he should not be allowed to take office because he is an atheist.
People in my local community (Alamance County) will likely have much to say about the results of the survey when they are published, and I suspect that reactions will be much more broad than just the local folks. Indeed, my hope is that the results of the poll will generate discussion not only about the NC constitution but as well about such laws all over the United States.
I'll keep you posted.