Mississippi Rep. Scott DeLano Says Law Preventing Atheists from Holding Public Office Should Remain in Constitution January 7, 2015

Mississippi Rep. Scott DeLano Says Law Preventing Atheists from Holding Public Office Should Remain in Constitution

We know that Mississippi is one of seven states where atheists theoretically can’t hold public office. Article 14, Section 265 of the state’s Constitution reads:

No person who denies the existence of a Supreme Being shall hold any office in this state.

All bans like this are, of course, unenforceable thanks to the U.S. Constitution and Supreme Court.

Still, Openly Secular has been pushing for legislators to remove those bans from the books if for no other reason than to send the message that anti-atheist bigotry will not be tolerated.

It would take a lot of work to make that happen, but isn’t it something all politicians should at least pay lip service to? Surely, they would jump through hoops to change the law if the ban affected any other group of people.

But when an NPR reporter asked Mississippi’s House Constitution chair Scott DeLano (R) what he thought about the request to change the law, he argued that it should stay in place:

Scott DeLano
Scott DeLano

I don’t see what good it would be to take it out of the constitution. I don’t think you would have the support to remove that from our constitution at all,” DeLano said.

DeLano says he thinks the requirement reflects the culture and beliefs of the majority of Mississippians.

It takes a southern Republican to defend blatant bigotry like that, doesn’t it?

Openly Campaign can’t believe it, saying in a press release:

“Representative DeLano insults the citizens of his state by claiming that they would support language that denies the benefits of citizenship to people who simply don’t subscribe to belief in a deity — people who are their neighbors, friends, and coworkers,” Openly Secular chair Todd Stiefel said. “I hope he is underestimating his constituents’ respect for their fellow Americans as well as the U.S. Constitution that protects the rights of all American citizens to hold office, no matter their race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or belief system.”

Even a conservative Christian could probably get away with saying, “I don’t support the law, but it’d be very hard to change the Constitution.” Or even: “The law no longer applies, so it’s not a priority of mine to change it.”

But to suggest that removing the law would serve no purpose? That’s some powerful Christian privilege at work. Of course it would serve a purpose. It could encourage more people to get involved in the political process. It would send a message that atheists, like people of faith, are valued by state officials.

There simply no good reason to keep the law in the books. If the best you can say about it is that “it no longer applies,” then why is it so hard to muster up the political “courage” to just get rid of it once and for all?

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