A DISCUSSION OF LAW AND JOURNALISM

Tag: Gail Collins

In God We Trust…and Hold Office

By Asher Hawkins

A casual aside in Wednesday’s op-ed column by Gail Collins of The New York Times sent us here at LASIS scurrying for our constitutional-law thinking caps.

In the piece, which poked fun at Tuesday night’s feisty Republican debate in Las Vegas, Ms. Collins made the following assertion about Texas governor Rick Perry: “The whole First Amendment thing might be a little complicated for a governor whose State Constitution prohibits anyone who doesn’t believe in God from holding public office. This is not a joke.”

Not a joke? It must be. Surely some form of federal law must prevent a state from including such a blatantly pro-religion requirement in its constitution, right? Just to be safe, we decided to look into what Ms. Collins was possibly referring to.

Lo and behold, her statement is essentially accurate (if somewhat imperfectly worded): Section 4 of Article I of the Texas Constitution forbids excluding anyone “from holding office on account of his religious sentiments, provided he acknowledge the existence of a Supreme Being.” (Article I of the Texas Constitution comprises the Lone Star State’s Bill of Rights.)

How does such a requirement not violate numerous provisions of the U.S. Constitution? And is Texas the only state whose constitution contains such language, or are there corresponding clauses in other states’ foundational documents? A look at federal case law on so-called religious test oaths helps answer those questions.   (more…)

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