It’s an ugly little open secret that Arkansas, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas have constitutions that explicitly forbid atheists from holding state office. These laws are archaic and unenforceable in principle — they were all ruled unconstitutional in 1961 — but of course they’re still in effect across all 50 states in practice, since public opinion makes it almost impossible for an atheist to get elected to high office.
Now, though, a representative in Arkansas has submitted a bill to amend the Arkansas constitution and remove the prohibition of atheists. This could get very interesting, or it might not. If the Arkansas legislature does the sensible thing and simply and efficiently removes an old law that can’t be enforced anyway, I will be pleased, but there won’t be much drama.
Since when are legislatures sensible, however? I can imagine indignant Christians defending an unconstitutional law and insisting that it be kept on the books as a token of their contempt. It is an awkward situation for the Christianist yahoos, because their constituencies might get inflamed, but on other hand, do they really want to go on record defending the indefensible?
I’m looking forward to it, and kudos to Rep. Richard Carroll of North Little Rock for poking a stick into this nest of snakes and stirring it up.