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First they came for the atheists - Arkansas state constitution says: "Atheists disqualified from holding office or testifying as witness:- No person who denies the being of a God shall hold any office in the civil departments of this State, nor be competent to testify as a witness in any Court" Link to pdf, pg 74 in pdf(via reddit).
posted by forwebsites (102 comments total)

 
Oh my God.
posted by odinsdream at 9:10 AM on August 18, 2006


This is old news, of course. Six other states have similar clauses.
posted by beagle at 9:11 AM on August 18, 2006


Is this provision ever actually enforced? If not -- and I suspect it isn't -- a campaign to amend it would only cause more trouble than it's worth.
posted by brain_drain at 9:12 AM on August 18, 2006


So, that means that you can escape any Arkansas subpoena by affirming that you're an atheist, because you can't testify anyway.


posted by clevershark at 9:12 AM on August 18, 2006


...no religious test shall ever be required, as a qualification to any office or public trust, under the United States.
posted by jonp72 at 9:13 AM on August 18, 2006


Oh my POG.
posted by jefgodesky at 9:14 AM on August 18, 2006


Dude, that was written 150+ years ago. Are we going back in time to find things to be outraged about?

I'm also an atheist...
posted by Fidel Cashflow at 9:15 AM on August 18, 2006


So, that means that you can escape any Arkansas subpoena by affirming that you're an atheist, because you can't testify anyway.

Hah, perfect!

You know who else they descriminate against in 1874?
2. Dueling.

No person who may hereafter fight a duel, assist in the same as second, or send, accept, or knowingly carry a challenge therefor, shall hold any office in the State, for a period of ten years; and may be otherwise punished as the law may prescribe.
Fuck that, son! Pistols at dawn! Sore losers...
posted by prostyle at 9:17 AM on August 18, 2006


Is this provision ever actually enforced? If not -- and I suspect it isn't -- a campaign to amend it would only cause more trouble than it's worth.

Interesting. How about if it said No Negroes?
posted by Armitage Shanks at 9:17 AM on August 18, 2006


Is this provision ever actually enforced? If not -- and I suspect it isn't -- a campaign to amend it would only cause more trouble than it's worth.

Yeah, it should be regarded like one of those ordinances barring mules from wearing top hats within 500 yards of city hall.

Of course I can imagine in some small towns they take their mules awfully seriously if you know what I mean, soooo....
posted by fleetmouse at 9:18 AM on August 18, 2006


So, that means that you can escape any Arkansas subpoena by affirming that you're an atheist, because you can't testify anyway.

Oh, that would be fun to watch. Nice catch on "affirm", btw.
posted by eriko at 9:19 AM on August 18, 2006


This is because people who don't believe in an all-powerful bearded old man in the sky who created the universe in six days and helps NFL players get touchdowns while allowing twenty thousand kids to die of starvation every day might not tell the truth.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 9:20 AM on August 18, 2006 [6 favorites]


Wasn’t there a famous political figure from Arkansas? His name escapes me.
posted by Smedleyman at 9:21 AM on August 18, 2006


No more taking the 5th for me! Sweet!
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 9:21 AM on August 18, 2006


Wait a minute. If you claim to be an atheist, they don't believe anything you say. But if they don't believe anything you say, how can you successfully claim to be an atheist?
posted by bshock at 9:21 AM on August 18, 2006 [1 favorite]


No person who denies the being of a God shall hold any office in the civil departments of this State, nor be competent to testify as a witness in any Court

It should say "No person who believes in imaginary beings shall hold any office in the civil departments of this State, nor be competent to testify as a witness in any Court"
posted by Mr_Zero at 9:23 AM on August 18, 2006


Well clearly you couldn't swear that you're an atheist!
posted by clevershark at 9:23 AM on August 18, 2006


Is this provision ever actually enforced? If not -- and I suspect it isn't -- a campaign to amend it would only cause more trouble than it's worth.

Interesting. How about if it said No Negroes?


A campaign to eliminate explicit race discrimination from a state constitution would encounter little or no resistance today. It's no longer controversial.

By contrast, a campaign to get rid of the "no atheists" provisions would be red meat for the religious right and cause a huge controversy that would accomplish nothing. Hardly anyone knows about these provisions; are they really causing widespread distress to atheists?
posted by brain_drain at 9:24 AM on August 18, 2006


I don't believe in Arkansas.
posted by Divine_Wino at 9:26 AM on August 18, 2006


Not surprising. In the business world, you are a 2nd class worker if you are not married.




I don't believe in atheism.

- Hawkeye Pierce
posted by wfc123 at 9:33 AM on August 18, 2006


Can I get out of jury duty if I become an aetheist? ...Damn that's tempting. J.C. hasn't been returning my phone calls anyway.

People who do [not] believe in an all-powerful bearded old man in the sky who created the universe in six days and helps NFL players get touchdowns while allowing twenty thousand kids to die of starvation every day might [not] tell the truth.

Fun with double negatives. =)
posted by ZachsMind at 9:35 AM on August 18, 2006


Hardly anyone knows about these provisions; are they really causing widespread distress to atheists?
posted by brain_drain at 9:24 AM PST on August 18


Carson v. Carson, 401 N.W.2d 632, 635–36
(Mich. Ct. App. 1986) (quoting trial court as opining that it “was a little bit distraught in finding that there was no particular affiliation [held by either parent] with a church,” because “[p]robably 95 percent of the criminals that I see before me come from homes where there’s no . . . established religious affiliation,”

Sharrow v. Davis, Nos. 244043, 245117, 2003 WL 21699876, at *3
(Mich. Ct. App. July 22, 2003) (noting that “[father] never attended church and his older children were not baptized,” that “[father] felt [the children] should experience many religions and choose one when they were older,” and that though “[mother] did not attend church regularly, she attended periodically and would take all of the children with her”);

Goodrich v. Jex, No. 243455, 2003 WL 21362971, at *1
(Mich. Ct. App. June 12, 2003) (noting “that [father] has a greater capacity and willingness to continue to take the parties’ daughters to church and related activities,” and that trial court had been “concerned with [mother’s] belief that her minor daughters are capable of making their own decisions whether to attend church”);

Sims v. Stanfield
, No. CA98-1040, 1999 WL 239888, at *3–*4 (Ark. Ct. App. Apr. 21, 1999)
(noting that lower court based award of custody to father partly on father’s having “‘rekindled’ a relationship with his church,” “regularly attend[ing] services,” and providing “a Christian home,” but declining on procedural grounds to review this);

Tweedel v. Tweedel, 484 So. 2d 260, 262 (La. Ct. App. 1986)
(noting that “The child attends church regularly with the mother and receives religious instruction. The father testified that he has not brought the child to church because the child did not want to go and that he would not force the child to go to church.”);

Staggs v. Staggs, No. 2004-CA-00443-COA, 2005 WL 1384525, at *6
(Miss. Ct. App. May 24, 2005) (noting that “[w]hile [father] is an agnostic and testified that religion is not important to him, [mother] testified that religion is very important to her”);

Weigand v. Houghton, 730 So. 2d 581, 587 (Miss. 1999)
(noting chancellor’s “weighing heavily” as factor in mother’s favor that “mother has seen that [the son] is taken to church and undergone religious training, along with the entire family” and that “[the son’s] best interest would be served by providing religious training”).

Gancas v. Schultz, 683 A.2d 1207, 1213–14 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1996)
(reversing lower court’s transfer of custody from mother to father, based partly on lower court’s “fail[ure] to consider ‘all factors which legitimately have an effect upon the child’s physical, intellectual, moral and spiritual well-being,’” and in particular that while “[m]other . . . takes [daughter] to church whenever [daughter] is with her,” “[f]ather, an admitted agnostic, does not attend church”).

Myers v. Myers, 14 Phila. 224, 256–57 (Com. Pl. 1986)
(“Although the issue of religion is not controlling in a custody case, the religious training of children is a matter of serious concern and is a factor that should be considered in rendering a custody decision. ‘A proper religious atmosphere is an attribute of a good home and it contributes significantly to the ultimate welfare of a child.’ Where it appears that the religious training of the children will cease upon placement in a given custodial setting, courts lean in favor of the religious-minded contestant.”), aff’d without op., 520 A.2d 68 (Pa. Super. Ct. 1986);

Scheeler v. Rudy, 2 Pa. D. & C.3d 772, 780 (Com. Pl. 1977)
(awarding custody to mother, noting as factor in her favor that she often took children to church, while father rarely did, that “[t]his court has often noted the absence of any regular church attendance in the pre- sentence reports of those who have been convicted of some crime, which appear on our desk,” and that “a religious education and upbringing can have a substantial effect upon the outlook and attitudes of a child, and in turn upon the life of the adult he or she will become.”)

Pountain v. Pountain, 503 S.E.2d 757, 761 (S.C. Ct. App. 1998)
(upholding denial of custody to father whom court described as “agnostic,” and stating that “Although the religious beliefs of parents are not dispositive in a child custody dispute, they are a factor relevant to determining the best interest of a child”);

In re F.J.K., 608 S.W.2d 301 (Tex. App. 1980)
(noting “the mother’s neglect of the children’s religious upbringing,” and “[a]n atheistic philosophy [being] . . . discussed by the new husband to some extent with the daughter, prompting her to advise her nursery school teacher that she was ‘not a Christian or a Jew but an atheist’”).
posted by Optimus Chyme at 9:36 AM on August 18, 2006 [10 favorites]


Possibly a tangent, but due to the opening sentence of this FPP, doesn't this reference the Nazis? So, the FPP Godwin's itself in the first six words.

irrelevant out of the gate. I don't believe it...
posted by fluffycreature at 9:36 AM on August 18, 2006 [1 favorite]


the whole godwin thing has become irrelevant and might as well not be used anymore. it's just an excuse for noise, now.
posted by lyam at 9:42 AM on August 18, 2006 [2 favorites]


Why does referring to Nazis automatically make something irrelevant, fluffycreature?
posted by interrobang at 9:42 AM on August 18, 2006


I wish I could not believe in Alabama but it won't go away! Waaah!
posted by darukaru at 9:43 AM on August 18, 2006


Relax folks, this provision is almost certainly unconstitutional under Torcaso v. Watkins, 367 U.S. 488 (1961).

See also Wikipedia's article here.
posted by saslett at 9:44 AM on August 18, 2006


Beside, this is more a case of the "slippery slope" than the obnoxiously overplayed, usually not thought out Godwin thing, anyway.
posted by interrobang at 9:45 AM on August 18, 2006


I don't believe in Arkansas.

Smithers, release the razorbacks.
posted by jonmc at 9:46 AM on August 18, 2006


By contrast, a campaign to get rid of the "no atheists" provisions would be red meat for the religious right and cause a huge controversy that would accomplish nothing. Hardly anyone knows about these provisions; are they really causing widespread distress to atheists?

So your recommendation is that we should leave obsolete, absurdly discriminatory and unconstitutional provisions in a constitution because we're afraid of the reaction from a tiny hardcore of religious bigots? Whan it comes to something that reflects basic principles like a constitution, shouldn't we be, you know, not quite such pussies?
posted by Armitage Shanks at 9:46 AM on August 18, 2006


@fluffy

When the Nazis came for the communists,
I remained silent;
I was not a communist.

When they locked up the social democrats,
I remained silent;
I was not a social democrat.

When they came for the trade unionists,
I did not speak out;
I was not a trade unionist.

When they came for the Jews,
I did not speak out;
I was not a Jew.

When they came for me,
there was no one left to speak out.

posted by i_am_a_Jedi at 9:47 AM on August 18, 2006


Wow, Optimus, those might be relevant if any of those cases had anything to do with the Arkansas constitution, and if more than one had to do with Arkansas itself.

Of course, those are family law cases, which are nortourisly fuzzy in the first place, having to do with the welfare of the child, as based on the judge's, um, judgement, and less on black-letter law.
posted by Snyder at 9:48 AM on August 18, 2006


From beagles link:

"The Arkansas anti-atheist provision survived a federal court challenge as recently as 1982."

Anyone have any more information on this?
posted by batou_ at 9:50 AM on August 18, 2006


If I were to suggest an amendment to the Constitution, it would be that any law which is not enforced for (some period of time), where the law is openly broken during that period of time, be automatically nulled.
posted by Kickstart70 at 9:51 AM on August 18, 2006


“In the business world, you are a 2nd class worker if you are not married.”

Solid reasons for that though. If you’ve got a wife and kids, you’re not going to just up and split one day. Bachelors are less tied down than the married folk. So who would you rather give responsibility to? Not fair of course, but straightforward.

Insofar as ‘imaginary beings’ go - one could argue that money is an imaginary construct. Being ‘imaginary’ does not, in and of itself, invalidate a concept. Justice itself is ‘imaginary.’ There is no natural state of it. One could argue - with the same reasoning as why you would rather hire/promote a married person than an unmarried one - that if you are not plugged into that system - e.g. if you don’t recognized the legitimacy of the government of the United States (itself an imaginary being), you don’t accept the responsibilities that go with ‘playing along’ with it.

Whatever the resolution of that (I haven’t thought that to a full conclusion) it’s a moot point ultimately because the state is and should be a separate entity from the church and participation in one imaginary being should not be a requisite for participation in the other.
posted by Smedleyman at 9:53 AM on August 18, 2006


Way to troll, Optimus Chyme. You've perfectly illustrated the objection for nonresponsiveness.

It's one thing to prove, as you implicitly have, that some judges are prejudiced against atheist or nonreligious parents.

It's quite another to say that atheists have been harmed by religious test laws that, though still on the books in some states, are facially unconstitutional.
posted by saslett at 9:54 AM on August 18, 2006 [1 favorite]


Texas has a similar rule in its constitution…


Article 1 - BILL OF RIGHTS
Section 4 - RELIGIOUS TESTS

"No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office, or public trust, in this State; nor shall any one be excluded from holding office on account of his religious sentiments, provided he acknowledge the existence of a Supreme Being."
posted by ALvard at 9:54 AM on August 18, 2006


I seriously doubt a move to remove such language from their respective constitutions would be that much of a rallying cry for religious conservatives. It's pretty obvious these provisions are unconstitutional, unenforceable, and bigoted.

It would be nice to just get rid of these kinds of embarrassments. And I think it would be a good discussion for the nation to have (you know, in that idealistic sense that this country could ever have a meaningful dialog about anything).

It's just so ludicrous to have blatant religious tests for holding public office and testifying(!?) in court. And that you must believe in an afterlife of reward and punishment with some of these whacko provisions is outrageous. How about, "I believe that anyone who tries to enforce these provisions should burn in Hell." Would that be good enough?
posted by effwerd at 9:55 AM on August 18, 2006


The state legislator can make the change, but they will not. If a state legislator ran on that issue or sponsored the bill, that state legislator would never be elected again. It is way too dangerous an issue for the legislature to make the call. The only way it will realistically be changed is by the courts.

Someone who is an atheist has to claim that they want to run for public office but cannot do so because the state law forbids it. That person will then have to file a suit against the state in federal court to allow their name on the ballot. If the state says, "We are not going to enforce that law, you can be on the ballot," then the suit might be dismissed because it is a moot issue. If the case ever reached any court, the plaintiff would undoubtedly win and that portion of the state constitution would be ruled unconstitutional under the US Constitution.
posted by flarbuse at 10:00 AM on August 18, 2006


Relax folks, this provision is almost certainly unconstitutional under Torcaso v. Watkins, 367 U.S. 488 (1961).

But it's not hard to ignore the Constitution if you have the will to do it and the proper backing. Those responsible for such a thing would likely be punished in the long run, but an awful lot of damage can be caused in the meantime. An awful lot.

I'm speaking hypothetically, of course.
posted by nromanek at 10:01 AM on August 18, 2006


Fidel Cashflow: Dude, that was written 150+ years ago. Are we going back in time to find things to be outraged about?

As a non-American that was actually news to me. Frankly, I never thought it that way when I submitted this link, though I can understand, if you are American why you would think so. But I'll also add, that there are a lot of things which are old but that doesn't mean we don't discuss them today. If not for beagle, I bet, many MeFites here wouldn't know that six other states are there as well. And to be pedantic, but still not wanting to going too activist on you, just because it's old also doesn't mean it can't change. Slavery was in the book 150 years ago. Now it's abolished. So I was actually thinking, how could this clause be present today? How there has been no ammendment for this? And finally, this link and discussion gives me ammo to return fire next time a "patriot" tells me how America beats all other nations.

On to the real query I have to MeFites:
Is it possible for states to have laws directly contradicting basic tenets of US Federal govt? And no I am not being sarcastic: Is it then theoretically possible for certain states to disqualify [insert yr minority here] in future? Allow them to not be equal opportunity employers? You get the drift...? Help me understand American political system a little better.
posted by forwebsites at 10:02 AM on August 18, 2006


Arkansas state constitution says: "Atheists disqualified...

Constitutions say a lot of things. Do what the government does and ignore them.
posted by Pastabagel at 10:03 AM on August 18, 2006


God forbid, so to speak, that we refer to the damned NAZIs when talking about religious intolerance or discussing all the things that could possibly go wrong with a society. Because, you know, they're not really a good example of that. Or something. Idiot.

Sorry, hate to get personal or anything, but I hate that 'you said something about the Nazis so I'm calling Godwin Godwin Godwin!!!' shit. Sometimes, it's appropriate to reference the Nazis when you want to reference the evil that humans can do. And I would place religious intolerance under that umbrella of evil.

Oh yeah, and just because it was written 150+ years ago is irrelevant. It's the law of the land.
posted by geekhorde at 10:05 AM on August 18, 2006 [1 favorite]


It's one thing to prove, as you implicitly have, that some judges are prejudiced against atheist or nonreligious parents.

It's quite another to say that atheists have been harmed by religious test laws that, though still on the books in some states, are facially unconstitutional.


Gee, I wonder where a judge might get the idea that it's ok to be prejudiced against atheist or nonreligious parents.
posted by Armitage Shanks at 10:06 AM on August 18, 2006


It's quite another to say that atheists have been harmed by religious test laws that, though still on the books in some states, are facially unconstitutional.
posted by saslett at 9:54 AM PST on August 18


Both the discriminatory constitutions and the family law rulings demonstrate the judicial system's intolerance of atheism. That so many of you say "big fucking deal" about it is in itself a big fucking deal. If these rules said "no jews or negroes" you'd be outraged and call for change, because you want to think you're so progressive, but because most of you are still frightened children who think that blind faith is all you need to get through the day, you have no problem with throwing out the first amendment. Atheists are citizens just like Christians, so why is it okay to discriminate against them?
posted by Optimus Chyme at 10:10 AM on August 18, 2006 [1 favorite]


Forwebsites: That's the essence of the struggle between state's rights and the primacy of the Federal government. And the answer really depends on who you ask, I guess. There's this constant struggle between some states asserting the right to write laws that are contrary to the laws of the Union as a whole, and the right of the Union to overrule those laws. Very confusing. Maybe some law scholars here could clear it up for us.
posted by geekhorde at 10:10 AM on August 18, 2006


provided he acknowledge the existence of a Supreme Being."

I'm trying to decide if I should run for Governor of Texas or not. Is the Flying Spaghetti Monster a being or is he a collection of noodles and meatballs?
posted by rogue haggis landing at 10:13 AM on August 18, 2006


I think that people who cry "Godwin" all the time should be beaten about the head and neck with a big book containing what Godwin actually wrote about the subject.
posted by clevershark at 10:14 AM on August 18, 2006


"No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office, or public trust, in this State; nor shall any one be excluded from holding office on account of his religious sentiments, provided he acknowledge the existence of a Supreme Being."

I recall reading in A Short History of Christianity (I think) that at the time these laws were introduced, they were considered quite progressive - they didn't discriminate against one religion in favor of another.
posted by me & my monkey at 10:14 AM on August 18, 2006


rogue haggis landing writes "I'm trying to decide if I should run for Governor of Texas or not. Is the Flying Spaghetti Monster a being or is he a collection of noodles and meatballs?"

The law would only appear to say "a God", so Pastafarians are just as kosher by it as Muslim extremists, so to speak.
posted by clevershark at 10:15 AM on August 18, 2006


How there has been no ammendment for this?

Well I'd suggest the American system is essentially pragmatic. It seems an odd thing today alright, but over time there's been little practical need to change it because: it's perfectly possible to lie about faith and carry on fighting whatever other practical fights one cares more about. Done all the time. Being an atheist is not the same as being a 'visible minority' for this simple practical reason. I'm not saying this is right or wrong, just that it is.

And generally, atheists just don't get that worked up about being atheists. Christians self-identify far more strongly as Christians than atheists do as atheists, for whom there just isn't (literally) anything to fight about.

There's a difference between atheism and anti-theism. As a practical matter only someone actively anti-theistic would have taken on changing the state constitution as a cause, there are always other more immediately pressing 'real' issues to spend one's career on. Again, not saying right or wrong, just what it is.
posted by scheptech at 10:21 AM on August 18, 2006


Is it possible for states to have laws directly contradicting basic tenets of US Federal govt?
posted by forwebsites at 12:02 PM CST on August 18


Absolutely. We have a federal system. States are sovereign within their states. The federal constitution, for the most part, only limited the federal governat alment for a long time. The federal constitution didn't limit states, mostly. That eroded over time through a series of Supreme Court decisions interpreting the 14th Amendment, and by the 1950's there was incrementally pretty much full incorporation (restrictions on the federal goverment applied to state governments).

The extent to which the limitations on governemtn found in the Federal Constitution all apply to each State Goverment is debated academically, but, as a practical matter, the prevailing view is that there is almost full incorporation.

For something passed a in the early 1800's and not changed, there is nothing fundamentally suspect about a state law in direct conflict with the limitations of the federal constitution. There is a term for these kind of laws that I hear every once in a while "precatory laws." Basically they are vestigial.
posted by dios at 10:22 AM on August 18, 2006


“I hate that 'you said something about the Nazis so I'm calling Godwin Godwin Godwin!!!' shit.”

You know who else used to call ‘Godwin’? Hitler.
posted by Smedleyman at 10:28 AM on August 18, 2006 [1 favorite]


Basically they are vestigial.

But only if you believe in evolution.
posted by Armitage Shanks at 10:29 AM on August 18, 2006


Don't ask, don't proselytize.
posted by hal9k at 10:29 AM on August 18, 2006


Dude, that was written 150+ years ago. Are we going back in time to find things to be outraged about?


You do what you gotta do on a slow news day.
posted by ninjew at 10:30 AM on August 18, 2006


"Dude, that was written 150+ years ago."

Brilliant! This has a lot of explanatory power. The Bill of Rights is even older. That must be why it's being ignored.
posted by adamrice at 10:34 AM on August 18, 2006


I actually would like to see some Texan or Arkansan Newdow-equivalent go to court over this. I think the ensuing "huge controversy" that brain_drain feared above would actually be something really good for this country.
posted by gurple at 10:38 AM on August 18, 2006


There's a difference between atheism and anti-theism.

I think you're confusing atheism with agnosticism. Atheism most certainly is anti-theism. Atheists actually deny the existence of a God, whereas agnostics say, essentially "who knows, who cares?"

So, if you're looking for anti-theists, you find it in atheists, not agnostics. Admittedly, plenty of people who actually are agnostic identify themselves as atheists, since that's the more popular term for "non-religious." There are differences, though.
posted by odinsdream at 10:47 AM on August 18, 2006


Atheists actually deny the existence of a God, whereas agnostics say, essentially "who knows, who cares?"

Bangs head against wall...

strong/explicit vs. weak/implicit atheism. google it.
posted by jsonic at 10:53 AM on August 18, 2006


Atheism most certainly is anti-theism.

No, odinsdream, I think scheptech had the right of it. For instance, I've been an atheist for many years, but I've only been actively anti-religion very recently. I think it's quite possible not to believe in gods but not to give a rat's ass one way or another whether other people do.

However, whether anti-theist or merely atheist, or Christian or Jew or whatever, I can't imagine why anyone other than religious radicals would want these statements to stand in their state constitutions.
posted by gurple at 10:54 AM on August 18, 2006


(to complete my thought)

... and I'd love to hear the arguments of those who WOULD want those statements to stand.
posted by gurple at 10:57 AM on August 18, 2006


Sorry to ruffle feathers. Like I said, everybody has their own interpretation of the words, and they've lost their meaning, but I try to use them correctly in my religious conversations with others.
posted by odinsdream at 10:59 AM on August 18, 2006


Optimus Chyme, don't listen to saslett. He has weak forearms and is poor at arm wrestling.
posted by Balna Watya at 11:01 AM on August 18, 2006 [1 favorite]


South Carolina was among several states that required a religious test for ublic office, but the state Supreme Court Struck it down in 1997.
posted by TedW at 11:01 AM on August 18, 2006


Smedleyman writes: Insofar as ‘imaginary beings’ go - one could argue that money is an imaginary construct. Being ‘imaginary’ does not, in and of itself, invalidate a concept. Justice itself is ‘imaginary.’ There is no natural state of it. One could argue - with the same reasoning as why you would rather hire/promote a married person than an unmarried one - that if you are not plugged into that system - e.g. if you don’t recognized the legitimacy of the government of the United States (itself an imaginary being), you don’t accept the responsibilities that go with ‘playing along’ with it.

I think you're confusing "imaginary" with "intangible", although money is neither ---it's a good bet that if two people can count something and independently get the same answer, then it's a tangible thing. (However, if you really believe money is imaginary, can I have yours, please?) regrettably, I suspect that we will be unable to settle the debate as to whether god is imaginary or intangible in the blue today.
posted by Humanzee at 11:04 AM on August 18, 2006


dios, your recent law-related posts have been helpful and awesome. However, it's spelled "government."
posted by jtron at 11:07 AM on August 18, 2006


From TedW's link above:

He said he's received phone calls from people saying they pray that God would "eliminate" him from South Carolina.

"As long as they are just praying for it, obviously I'm not worried," he said.


Awesome.
posted by gurple at 11:09 AM on August 18, 2006


think you're confusing atheism with agnosticism.....

Oh, please, for the love of dog, not this tired debate again....

Why don't we just interpret the fucking words literally, eh? That should be fun.

A-theism: Refusal to adopt a belief on the validitiy of Theism.
A-gnosticism: Refusal to adopt a belief on the existence of "secret knowledge."
Anti-theism: Opposition to theism.

Are we happy now?

Of course not.
posted by lodurr at 11:11 AM on August 18, 2006


If these rules said "no jews or negroes" you'd be outraged and call for change, because you want to think you're so progressive, but because most of you are still frightened children who think that blind faith is all you need to get through the day, you have no problem with throwing out the first amendment.

Fuck you and learn to read. Some people are actually concered about real problems and not unenforced laws, and don't have to show of how "progressive" we are by making up the motivations of people who disagree with us.
posted by Snyder at 11:16 AM on August 18, 2006


Wow, there's so much misinformation being bandied about on this thread that I don't know where to start. Suffice it to say that if you're expecting absolutely accurate answers to legal questions on the MeFi board, you're looking in the wrong place. And, no, I don't except myself. You're forewarned.

I will bite at batou's question, though. That provision of the Arkansas constitution survived a court challenge in 1982 only because the plaintiffs in that case lacked standing to challenge it. In non-legal terms, the plaintiffs hadn't been injured by the law or threatened with imminent injury; they merely disagreed with it. Though the atheist plaintiff claimed the provision might not allow her to testify in a future court case or become a prosecutor, she was involved in no pending lawsuit nor did it appear she was near becoming a prosecutor.

Let me emphasize that the court did NOT rule on the merits.

The basic idea reason for standing is that parties with something to lose are likely to more vigorously and seriously argue their cases than those for whom it would be an academic exercise. It also streamlines court work and reduces the courts' ability to interfere directly with the executive and legislative braches (i.e. instead of challenging laws on their own initiative, or getting individuals with no stake whatsoever to challenge them, courts must wait for litigants to bring challenges themselves.)

Anyway, the relevant decision is Flores v. White, 692 F.2d 63 (8th Cir. 1982), the entirety of which is reproduced below (footnotes omitted and emphasis added):

Before LAY, Chief Judge, and McMILLIAN and JOHN R. GIBSON, Circuit judges.

PER CURIAM.

Frances Flora and Erin Leary appeal from a final order entered in the District Court [FN1] for the Eastern District of Arkansas dismissing their civil rights action challenging the constitutionality of art. 19, § 1 of the Arkansas Constitution. This section provides that "[n]o person who denies the being of a God shall hold any office in the civil department of this State, nor be competent to testify as a witness in any Court." Appellants argued that this section is a bill of attainder and violates the establishment clause of the first amendment of the United States Constitution. The district court held that appellants lacked standing and dismissed the action. Flora v. White, No. LR-C-81-452 (E.D.Ark. Dec. 23, 1981). We affirm.

As noted by the district court, appellant Leary alleged only that the challenged section bars her from testifying in any future action that she may bring for damages for the conversion of her personal property and from properly preparing for a legal career that she hopes will include service as a prosecuting attorney. Appellant Leary has not demonstrated that she has been personally subjected to an "actual or threatened injury." See Gladstone, Realtors v. City of Bellwood, 441 U.S. 91, 99, 99 S.Ct. 1601, 1608, 60 L.Ed.2d 66 (1979). Appellant Leary has not shown that she has or in all likelihood will be barred either from appearing as a witness or from serving as a prosecuting attorney. But cf. O'Hair v. White, 675 F.2d 680 (5th Cir. 1982) (finding requisite injury in fact in diminution of atheist's right to vote as a result of similar provision in Texas constitution requiring acknowledgment of belief in supreme being in order to hold public office or serve on jury).

Both appellants also allege that, as atheists, they have suffered adverse psychological consequences as a result of the continued presence of this section in the Arkansas Constitution. The Supreme Court, however, recently held that this type of general psychological impact does not constitute the requisite injury in fact. See Valley Forge Christian College v. Americans United for Separation of Church & State, Inc., 454 U.S. 464, 102 S.Ct. 752, 70 L.Ed.2d 700 (1982). The plaintiffs in Valley Forge, like appellants herein, failed

to identify any personal injury suffered ... as a consequence of the alleged constitutional error, other than the psychological consequence presumably produced by observation of conduct with which one disagrees. That is not an injury sufficient to confer standing under Art. III, even though the disagreement is phrased in constitutional terms. It is evident that [the plaintiffs] are firmly committed to the constitutional principle of separation of church and State, but standing is not measured by the intensity of the litigant's interest or the fervor of his [or her] advocacy. "[T]hat concrete adverseness which sharpens the presentation of issues" is the anticipated consequence of proceedings commenced by one who has been injured in fact; it is not a permissible substitute for the showing of injury itself.
102 S.Ct. at 765-66 (emphasis in original, citations and footnote omitted); see also id. at 766 n.22 (rejecting a "spiritual stake" in the outcome as sufficient to confer standing).

Accordingly, the order of the district court dismissing appellants' action for lack of standing is affirmed. [FN2]
posted by saslett at 11:18 AM on August 18, 2006 [1 favorite]


Gah. Flora v. White, obviously.
posted by saslett at 11:20 AM on August 18, 2006


Humanzee: If you can't touch it, it's intangible, even if it does have an objective existence. Sound, for example, is intangible. Sound is less imaginary than money, though — if nobody thinks of a given object as money, it ceases to be money; that's not true of sound.
posted by hattifattener at 11:34 AM on August 18, 2006


If these rules said "no jews or negroes" you'd be outraged and call for change, because you want to think you're so progressive, but because most of you are still frightened children who think that blind faith is all you need to get through the day, you have no problem with throwing out the first amendment.

Erm... ass, you, me, and all that.
posted by Stauf at 11:34 AM on August 18, 2006


Some people are actually concered about real problems

Some people think their definition of "real problems" is the same as everyone else's.
posted by Armitage Shanks at 11:36 AM on August 18, 2006


Atheist military burials.
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 12:05 PM on August 18, 2006


Is it possible for states to have laws directly contradicting basic tenets of US Federal govt?
posted by forwebsites

Yes, but, when states do have such laws, as has been pointed out above, someone who is affected has to go to court to get the Feds to overrule the State. Here are the 10th & 14th amendments to the constitution:


Amendment X


The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.

Amendment XIV

Section 1. All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

[Please see Amendments I - IX for the basic list of ..."the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States."]

Section 2. Representatives shall be apportioned among the several states according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each state, excluding Indians not taxed. But when the right to vote at any election for the choice of electors for President and Vice President of the United States, Representatives in Congress, the executive and judicial officers of a state, or the members of the legislature thereof, is denied to any of the male inhabitants of such state, being twenty-one years of age, and citizens of the United States, or in any way abridged, except for participation in rebellion, or other crime, the basis of representation therein shall be reduced in the proportion which the number of such male citizens shall bear to the whole number of male citizens twenty-one years of age in such state.

Section 3. No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any state, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any state legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any state, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.

Section 4. The validity of the public debt of the United States, authorized by law, including debts incurred for payment of pensions and bounties for services in suppressing insurrection or rebellion, shall not be questioned. But neither the United States nor any state shall assume or pay any debt or obligation incurred in aid of insurrection or rebellion against the United States, or any claim for the loss or emancipation of any slave; but all such debts, obligations and claims shall be held illegal and void.

Section 5. The Congress shall have power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.
posted by taosbat at 12:12 PM on August 18, 2006


Fleetmouse:Of course I can imagine in some small towns they take their mules awfully seriously

What can happen when mules get taken too seriously?


MAN: Hey, are you making some kind of joke?

JOE: No. See, I understand you men were just playin' around. But the mule, he just doesn't get it. Of course, if you were to all apologize. (Men laugh. Joe exposes pistol.) I don't think it's nice, you laughin'. See, my mule don't like people laughing. He gets the crazy idea you're laughing at him. Now if you apologize, like I know you're going to, I might convince him that you really didn't mean it . . . (Men draw their guns. Joe draws his and fires five shots, then holsters his gun)


From the film A Fistful of Dollars
posted by miss-lapin at 12:15 PM on August 18, 2006 [1 favorite]


Some people think their definition of "real problems" is the same as everyone else's.

That's a fair point. I mean, I think getting up in arms about an unenforced provision of the Arkansas constitution is silly, and I'll say it's silly, but I don't disparage the character of people who think it is a problem, (well, any more then saying they're being a bit "silly," and maybe there are more serious problems out there,) especially since I nominally agree with them. I would prefer these clauses were removed, I just don't think there is any immediate or long-term danger from them.

It is ridiculous to rudely attack people who nominally agree with you by making up about their motivations and accusing them of being frightened children who care nothing for freedom and are mere poser progressives. I have no problem disparaging their character, that they seem to be people who are more concerned with showing off how more progressive they are than everyone else than actually putting thier principles into action.
posted by Snyder at 12:31 PM on August 18, 2006


However, whether anti-theist or merely atheist, or Christian or Jew or whatever, I can't imagine why anyone other than religious radicals would want these statements to stand in their state constitutions.

As another atheist*, I'll try to explain how this could work: it's obviously bad for a religious test like this to appear in a state constitution, so I'd love to see it gone. But trying to remove it could lead to other bad things: active persecution of atheists; the grim spectacle of a failed vote to repeal it; further enmity between atheists and religious people; even, in the worst case, a constitutional amendment to make it legal. So, if it isn't being enforced, I think leaving it alone is less bad than challenging it would be. If they do try to enforce it, that would be the time to challenge it, in the courts, on constitutional grounds.

There are all sorts of lingering unused laws on the books that show backwards ways of thinking. This is only natural: it's easier to change people's minds than it is to change the law, and once you've changed people's minds, there's not so much need to change the law, because they won't enforce it.

* I may actually be an agnostic by some definitions used here, but I don't think it's very important what you call it. I don't believe in god, so I consider myself an atheist. I'm uncertain about it, but no more uncertain than I am about most other things.
posted by moss at 12:36 PM on August 18, 2006


Well put, moss.
posted by brain_drain at 1:01 PM on August 18, 2006


“I think you're confusing "imaginary" with "intangible"”

I think you’re confusing “symbolic” with “not real” and “money” with “mathematics.”
I can count the saints. I can count God’s commandments. God tangibly affects the world. Money also tangibly affects the world. Both have a symbolic value despite being (to some minds debatable) mental constructs of humans. And either way - God in part. But the existance of God is not predicated on whether he is imaginary or intangible. It’s irrelevent to my point whether God has actual existance. God as a concept has an affect. Manifestly. Similarly, money is worth only what it is commonly agreed upon. But given the form of your disagreement that money is fundimentally imaginary - that is a mental human construct - I’d be happy to trade you all of my confederate dollars for a mathematically equal sum in modern U.S. currency.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:16 PM on August 18, 2006


/whoops, missed hattifattener’s (better/more concise than mine) rebuttle.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:20 PM on August 18, 2006


What the fuck? The taliban run Arkansas now?


...actually that does seem kind of plausible.
posted by Artw at 2:23 PM on August 18, 2006


...actually that does seem kind of plausible.

Who would notice?
posted by vorfeed at 2:39 PM on August 18, 2006


Both the discriminatory constitutions and the family law rulings demonstrate the judicial system's intolerance of atheism. That so many of you say "big fucking deal" about it is in itself a big fucking deal.

Amen. Er. Wait.

True dat.

There. That's better.

So. How many people here would let it lie if it said "No person who is negro shall hold any office." It ain't being enforced, right? So let it lie. Let it lie. Let's not stir anything up.
posted by tkchrist at 3:02 PM on August 18, 2006


I think the ensuing "huge controversy" that brain_drain feared above would actually be something really good for this country.

Honestly, it would be really bad for the country, because most people, even religious types, think the stipulation is dumb and should be purged, so the media would concentrate on the shrill ends of the discussion. You'd have Roy Moore and Newdow fighting it out on the talk shows night after night, making people want to throw them in bags and off bridges into rivers.

And in the end, it would be some 2:1 majority to overturn it, and you'd hear anti-theists going on for decades about that stupid 1/3rd who didn't agree with their 1000% Absolutely Right view while the hyper-theists would go on about the 2/3rds who didn't agree with their 1000% Absolutely Right view.

I'm not saying this provision shouldn't be stripped (it should be), but saying this will be good for the country is like those people who picnicked at the First Battle of Bull Run.
posted by dw at 3:44 PM on August 18, 2006


It's not exactly the same, but the debate in this thread reminds me of sodomy laws. For a long time, a lot of people seemed uninterested in striking sodomy laws because they were generally unenforced/unenforcable. The problem with this was that religious conservatives figured out they could use it as a nice legal justification for anti-homosexuality, by claiming that homosexuals were obviously violating sodomy statutes (Bowers v Hardwick for example).

This doesn't appear to be as useful to the extremists, but it seems to have the same spirit to me. Anything in the law which reinforces the acceptability of discrimination, even if it is not enforced, makes it harder to achieve equality.
posted by wildcrdj at 3:51 PM on August 18, 2006


So. How many people here would let it lie if it said "No person who is negro shall hold any office." It ain't being enforced, right? So let it lie. Let it lie. Let's not stir anything up.

Me. I totally would. Hell, if it said "Jew" or "person named Snyder," I'd let it lie, unless someone actually tried to stop me or a black person from running for or taking office. If they did, I'd totally have standing to sue their asses to kingdom come and back. If they didn't, then, no harm no foul?

On preview, wildcrdj makes an interesting oint, but I think dw's scenario is more likely, and wouldn't change public perception of atheists anyway.
posted by Snyder at 4:04 PM on August 18, 2006


So. How many people here would let it lie if it said "No person who is negro shall hold any office." It ain't being enforced, right? So let it lie. Let it lie. Let's not stir anything up.

For what it's worth, I can also imagine situations where it would be better to let something like that lie, if everyone already knew the law was invalid (because unconstitutional). Though I probably wouldn't be as cavalier about it in that case, since the group being (potentially) harmed is one I don't belong to, and since discrimination against black people has historically been a much worse problem in this country.

But I think the thing I really object to isn't making a big deal of this (I don't think it's important, but I can see why others would) but making it part of a narrative about increasing religious control of America, which it seemed to me this post and some comments were trying to do. I would also be disturbed if, say, a link to Article 1, Section 2, Paragraph 3 of the U.S. Constitution got responses like "Welcome to South Africa!" or "I didn't realize the Confederacy had won the Civil War!". The fact that this is a very old law doesn't necessarily make it okay, but it does change its significance.
posted by moss at 4:18 PM on August 18, 2006


A lot of people dismiss these laws as quaint and unenforced. In St. Louis, supposedly there's a law that is used to crack down on fetish clubs. It's an old law to prevent bullwhip fights from happening in bars, but it still gets used. I can't dig it up right now. Or, in Blackjack, Missouri, they just had to amend a law preventing unmarried couples from living together. Just because it's on the books and old doesn't mean that it doesn't get used against people. Sodomy laws, anyone?
posted by adipocere at 4:28 PM on August 18, 2006


I love you, Optimus Chyme.

Given that family law *does* have a greater effect on everyday life in this country than most criminal or constitutional-y laws do (how many people rob a bank and get tried for it vs. how many people get divorced and end up in family court each day?), I think it's very telling that opinions like those get issued.

Just because someone goes to church doesn't make them a good person... and just because someone doesn't... well, you get the idea. Pretending this kind of behavior by judges doesn't matter, or these outdated laws don't affect our society negatively is wrong. Ask Rachel Bevilacqua how religious affiliation or lack of it plays out in family court...
posted by bitter-girl.com at 5:45 PM on August 18, 2006


So...you guys have a written constitution, huh?
posted by dash_slot- at 6:29 PM on August 18, 2006


If I, an agnostic, witness a crime in Arkansas does that mean my testimony is inadmissible? Is the answer is yes, then this is a big deal.
posted by Scoo at 6:54 PM on August 18, 2006


jesus fucking christ, what legislative assholes.
posted by moonbird at 8:08 PM on August 18, 2006


God tangibly affects the world. Money also tangibly affects the world.

No, people affect the world; in money and God's name. Nothing more. Believe what you want, but do not try and tell me God has done anything tangible. If it's tangible, you can prove it, and if you could then it wouldn't be called "faith".
posted by Dark Messiah at 9:58 PM on August 18, 2006


Do they still have people swear on a Bible before testifying, with the whole "so help me, god" thing? it'd be kind of hard to trust that if an atheist were testifying, i suppose.

on a random note, I always thought that swearing on the Bible thing was a bit odd, seeing as how Jesus forbids swearing on anything in the sermon on the mount.

really tho, do they still swear everyone in like that? any lawyers present?
posted by es_de_bah at 7:45 AM on August 19, 2006


es_de_bah: Most courts give you the option of an "affirmation" ("I solemnly affirm to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.") instead of an "oath" ("I solemnly swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God.") Though this applies to atheists, many religious people will choose the affirmation if they believe that swearing to tell the truth on the name of their deity is inappropriate.
posted by ErWenn at 10:12 AM on August 19, 2006


"on a random note, I always thought that swearing on the Bible thing was a bit odd, seeing as how Jesus forbids swearing on anything in the sermon on the mount."

the pentecostal cult I grew up in strenuously forbade swearing on the bible in court.
posted by lastobelus at 10:43 AM on August 19, 2006


Why would it be bad for the country for there to be more controversy?

AR's constitution needs amending.
posted by owhydididoit at 5:54 PM on August 19, 2006


“No, people affect the world; in money and God's name.” - posted by Dark Messiah

F’ing Duh. Guess you missed the word “imaginary” as implying an imaginer. As for tangibility - justice has similar effects on the world. Tell someone who’s been executed under the death penalty justice has done nothing tangible. Oh, wait...
posted by Smedleyman at 12:23 PM on August 21, 2006




Or, and scoo hit on this point, a couple of convicts need to appeal based upon the inadmissability of witness testimony against them, because those witnesses are atheists.

If came down to continuing to bar atheists from public office on paper if not in real life vs. the possibility of a hell of a lot of crimes going unpunished, even the up-tightest member of the psuedoChristian Taliban brigade would have a hard time supporting this.

posted by Dreama at 1:02 PM on August 21, 2006


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