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Laws and other rules against atheists and agnostics

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It should be noted that in some cases, the constitutionality of these statutes are yet to be tested. Regardless, the citations herein clearly show the extent to which non-theists are un-ambiguously, actively and aggressively discriminated against.


  • Atheists cannot be Boy Scouts
  • Freemasons require that members "believe in a Supreme Being."
  • The Fraternal Order of Eagles requires that members believe in god.
  • Some schools may require students to go to church or they are not able to be enrolled

United States


  • Arkansas Constitution bans atheists from holding office or being a witness in court[1]

Constitution Of The State Of Arkansas Of 1874.

Article 19. Miscellaneous Provisions. § 1. 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.[2]


  • Unable to hold public office in Maryland

Article 37 of the Declaration of Rights of the Maryland Constitution That no religious test ought ever to be required as a qualification for any office of profit or trust in this State, other than a declaration of belief in the existence of God; nor shall the Legislature prescribe any other oath of office than the oath prescribed by this Constitution.[3]


  • Take the lord's name in vain? Criticize religion? Spend up to a year in jail.


TITLE I. CRIMES AND PUNISHMENTS CHAPTER 272. CRIMES AGAINST CHASTITY, MORALITY, DECENCY AND GOOD ORDER Chapter 272: Section 36. Blasphemy Section 36. Whoever wilfully blasphemes the holy name of God by denying, cursing or contumeliously reproaching God, his creation, government or final judging of the world, or by cursing or contumeliously reproaching Jesus Christ or the Holy Ghost, or by cursing or contumeliously reproaching or exposing to contempt and ridicule, the holy word of God contained in the holy scriptures shall be punished by imprisonment in jail for not more than one year or by a fine of not more than three

hundred dollars, and may also be bound to good behavior.[4]

  • Special protections for theists that are not afforded to atheists

Massachusetts' State Constitution, Article 3 "Any every denomination of Christians, demeaning themselves peaceably, and as good subjects of the commonwealth, shall be equally under the protection of the law: and no subordination of any one sect or denomination to another shall ever be established by law."


  • No atheists can hold any office in the state of MS

Mississippi State Constitution. No person who denies the existence of a Supreme Being shall hold any office in this state.[5]

North Carolina

  • Unable to hold public office in North Carolina

North Carolina State Constitution, Article VI, Section 8:

Sec. 8. Disqualifications for office. The following persons shall be disqualified for office:

First, any person who shall deny the being of Almighty God.[6]


  • Specific protections for religious people

"No person who acknowledges the being of a God and a future state of rewards and punishments shall, on account of his religious sentiments, be disqualified to hold any office or place of trust or profit under this Commonwealth."[7]

South Carolina

  • Unable to hold public office in South Carolina

South Carolina State Constitution, Article VI, Section 2: No person who denies the existence of the Supreme Being shall hold any office under this Constitution.[8]

In 1993, Herb Silverman, a college professor, along with the ACLU brought forward a case of discrimination. Professor Silverman was rejected from being a notary public. It took 4 years for the case to be decided and had to go to the State Supreme Court. In 1997, the South Carolina State Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the law was unconstitutional.[9]


  • Unable to hold public office in Tennessee

The Tennessee Constitution, Article IX, Section 2 No person who denies the being of God, or a future state of rewards and punishments, shall hold any office in the civil department of this state.[10]


  • Unable to hold public office in Texas

The Texas Constitution, Article I, Section 4: 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.[11]


All laws against atheists holding office were ruled unconstitutional and unenforceable by the 1961 Supreme Court case Torcaso v. Watkins on a first amendment basis. [12]



Ireland has become the latest in the list of countries that have passed stricter anti-blasphemy legislation in the recent past. In June of 2009, new blasphemy legislation was smuggled into the Irish legal system under the guise of defamation law reform.

Under this proposed law, if a person expresses one belief about gods, and other people think that this insults a different belief about gods, then these people can become outraged, and this outrage can make it illegal for the first person to express his or her beliefs. [13]


Recent cases of human rights abuse by the Indian government have garnered much media attention. One was the arrest of the editor and publisher of The Statesman on reprinting an article that first appeared in the UK. The second was the case of Ajith D, a 19 year old from Kerala. The accused was charged under Sections 153A, 506 and 295A of the IPC. Section 506 is concerned with making intimidating comments and was used in Ajith’s case. Section 153A was used against the paper editor and publisher, which states:

Section 153A: Promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc., and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony.[14] [15]

Section 295A states:

Section 295A: Deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings or any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs.
Whoever, with deliberate and malicious intention of outraging the religious feelings of any class of [Indian citizens], [by words, either spoken or written, or by signs or by visible representations or otherwise], insults or attempts to insult the religion or the religious beliefs of that class, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term which may extend to [three years], or with fine, or with both.


In 1990 the Organization of the Islamic Conference(OIC) passed the Cairo Declaration of Human Rights in Islam (CDHRI). In effect the OIC member nations had signed an agreement declaring Shariah law as the only guide to human rights. “Articles 24 and 25 of the CDHRI make all the rights and freedoms stipulated in it subject to Shariah and only to Shariah”. Protecting Islamic religion against blasphemy is an integral part of Shariah.[16]

The Cairo Declaration of Human Rights was presented at the UN in 1992 and was accepted into the Human Rights Commission’s A Compilation of International Instruments (vol. II (1997), pp. 478-84) in 1997.


A “Defamation of Religions” resolution of 1999 was first brought to the U.N.H.R.C. by Pakistan, initially as the “Defamation of Islam” resolution. As a result, Pakistan became the leader of the movement for anti-blasphemy UN legislation. But Pakistan's history on free speech is less than clear.

In 1860 the British repealed existing blasphemy laws to allow missionary proselytizing. From the time after the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947, till 1982 when Mushtaq Raj published Heavenly Communism, there were few of blasphemy in Pakistan. During that period no anti-blasphemy laws were in place. In the aftermath of the Mushtaq Raj case, Section 295C was added to the code in 1986. It reads:

Whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation, or by any imputation, innuendo or insinuation, directly or indirectly defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Mohammed- Peace be upon him- shall be punished with death and shall also be liable to a fine.

Not only does one get to die, they also get to pay for your own execution! In modern day, Pakistan’s courts follow strict interpretations of the blasphemy laws, usually sentencing guilty parties to death or life in prison. Much of those convicted and killed are minorities of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community. The government has ruled that this group is not even allowed to proclaim themselves as Muslims. Many young kids have been killed by these laws. [17]

United Nations

For more than 4 years in a row, the General Assembly of the UN has passed a non-binding resolution against “Defamation of Religion”, beginning with Yemen’s introduction of ‘Combating Defamation of Religions’ in 2005. Resolutions that passed in December 2007 and November 2008 required the Secretary-General to present a report on the implementation of the resolutions, including on the “possible correlation between defamation of religions and the upsurge in incitement, intolerance and hatred in many parts of the world.” [18]

In the Spring of 2009, the OIC brought up the issue in front of the U.N. Human Rights Council, asking that “defamation of religion” be declared as racism. The proposal was dismissed by the three special investigators appointed to look into it. The issue was on the table again on June 16th of that year, when the Pakistani delegate Muhammad Saeed Sarwar made an appeal to the U.N.H.R.C. claiming that criticism of Islam, which they labeled as “defamation of religion”, is a new form of racism, intolerance and xenophobia, constituting discrimination. A representative from the International Humanist and Ethical Union, Roy Brown, responded with this statement:

"We were dismayed to hear again in this very debate an attempt to link defamation of religion to racism. Mr President, if I believe that a particular religion has no merit; that it is founded on a pre-scientific worldview, and that the application of many of its tenets is contrary to internationally accepted standards of human rights, then that is my opinion and I have the absolute right to express it. And, Mr President, it has nothing whatsoever to do with racism." [19]

The OIC, backed by former communist countries like Cuba and China, continue the push to legitimize such human rights abuses on a global scale.


  1. . http://vlex.us/vid/307413
  2. . Arkansas state constitution, http://www.sos.arkansas.gov/ar-constitution/arcart19/arcart19-1.htm
  3. . http://www.msa.md.gov/msa/mdmanual/43const/html/00dec.html
  4. . http://www.mass.gov/legis/laws/mgl/272-36.htm
  5. . Article 14 ("General Provisions"), Section 265
  6. . http://statelibrary.dcr.state.nc.us/NC/STGOVT/article_vi.htm
  7. . Pennsylvania's State Constitution, Article 1 Section 4
  8. . http://www.scstatehouse.net/scconstitution/a06.htm
  9. . Herb Silverman v. Gov. Carroll A. Campbell and Secretary of State Jim Miles, Order 94-CP-40-3594, dated August 2, 1995; http://www.secular.org/board/silverman.html
  10. . http://state.tn.us/sos/bluebook/07-08/47-Constitution,%20Tennessee.pdf
  11. . http://tlo2.tlc.state.tx.us/txconst/sections/cn000100-000400.html
  12. . http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/scripts/getcase.pl?court=US&vol=367&invol=488
  13. . http://www.indexoncensorship.org/2009/07/ireland-blasphemy-law-a-backward-step/
  14. . http://nirmukta.com/2009/03/05/religions-silencing-dissent-the-global-resurgence-of-blasphemy-laws/
  15. . http://www.vakilno1.com/bareacts/IndianPenalCode/S153A.htm
  16. . http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blasphemy
  17. . http://nirmukta.com/2009/03/05/religions-silencing-dissent-the-global-resurgence-of-blasphemy-laws/
  18. . http://nirmukta.com/2009/03/05/religions-silencing-dissent-the-global-resurgence-of-blasphemy-laws/
  19. . http://nirmukta.com/2009/06/24/defamation-of-religion-is-not-racism-says-un-oic-disagrees/

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