An Elon Law School Professor Explains How Religion Factors Into NC’s Constitution
(WGHP) – Sometimes our law is a funny thing.
If you look at the North Carolina constitution – up to Article VI, Section 8 – you will see a passage about what disqualifies anyone from holding public office. And, right there, the first thing mentioned is that if you don’t affirm that there is a God, you can’t hold office. Essentially, atheists or agnostics do not need to apply when it comes to official state duties.
“It obviously made sense to the people who passed it,” said Steve Friedland, a professor at Elon Law School.
And not just the people of North Carolina: 8 states have something like this on the books. But, says Friedland, times are changing.
“In reality, the constitution is just an outline, and the Supreme Court has been the primary interpreter of what it means for the past two centuries,” Friedland said. “So when the founders came here, of course they wanted freedom of religion. And over time, that meant different things in different states.
Take Maryland, for example. King Charles I of England granted this land to George Calvert, who held the English title of Baron of Baltimore in northern England.
The colony he founded was to be a haven for Roman Catholics in England – something English nobility often suspected Charles favored as he converted to Catholicism on his deathbed.
But it was religion’s place in Maryland’s constitution that led to a legal battle.
“He went to the Supreme Court of the United States,” Friedland said. “In Maryland, the courts upheld this clause (must affirm a belief in God). And in 1961, the U.S. Supreme Court took it up in a case called Torcaso v. Watkins and said, ‘It violates the Establishment Clause (of the First Amendment) We already have a precedent that says that’s not good, and we basically want the rest of the country to know that we won’t abide by such clauses.
This is not, says Friedland, a way to get rid of religion. It’s just that “the state can’t favor a religion, and it can’t favor religion over non-religion, and that’s what this clause does.”
Friedland says if you look around you will see religion in public life.
“If you look at the dollar bill, it says, ‘In God We Trust.’ So it’s not that religious references have been isolated from the public and the government…it’s just that the Supreme Court is saying there has to be a line drawn between accommodation and promotion of religion,” he said. he said.
Read more about this phenomenon in this edition of the Buckley report.
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