• No Religious Tests…

    No-religious-test-of-officeSo here is the situation. My local representative on the School Board was a Republican and was caught stealing money from a charity. He was kicked off the School Board and so there was a vacancy. The current Board issued a call for people to replace him. There would be an interview with the Board and then the Board would vote. Since my son will be starting public school in this district, I decided to throw my hat in the ring.

    The interview was on Monday night. Most of the questions were standard questions asked of all the candidates until the Republican Vice-President asked me about my atheism.

    He started off talking about how we live in an internet age and how he Googled me. Then a few of the other Board members tried to hush him down, but he continued. He said that he saw that I write a lot about atheism, informed me that the Board says a prayer at the beginning of each meeting, and asked if I would be okay with that as an atheist.

    I told him that it isn’t about me; it is about the U.S. Constitution. As a point of fact, prayers during meetings violate the Constitution’s Establishment Clause and that the Board could either stop praying during the meeting or open the floor to other religions and non-religious viewpoints to give an invocation.

    This clearly rattled some members of the Board as after my interview was over, they continued to talk about this issue quietly as part of the meeting. One Board member even said that she would stop praying at the beginning of meetings when they take “In God We Trust” off our money. Still, there was a Board member who pointed out that my interpretation of the Constitution was indeed correct. He even fielded objections made by other Board members.

    So where does this stand now? Well, the vote was last night and I was unable to attend it live. However, I did receive a phone call from the Board’s President yesterday afternoon informing me that the unofficial vote suggests that I will not be the one filling the vacancy on the School Board.

    There were two other candidates and I don’t know what the final vote was yet. However, clearly my atheism was a factor because if came up as an issue in the interview and at least two Board members took issue to my lack of belief in deities.

    Despite the fact that the U.S. Constitution makes it clear that, “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States,” there may have in fact been a religious test for this School Board position.

    Where do I go from here? Not only does this School Board violate the Constitution’s Establishment Clause with prayer during public meetings, but they may have also violated Article VI Paragraph 3 of the Constitution itself. Thoughts?

    Category: AtheismEducationfeaturedPersonalPolitics

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    Article by: Staks Rosch

    Staks Rosch is a writer for the Skeptic Ink Network & Huffington Post, and is also a freelance writer for Publishers Weekly. Currently he serves as the head of the Philadelphia Coalition of Reason and is a stay-at-home dad.

    5 comments

    1. Just them asking about it was a serious breach of duty. if it was a business, then it would probably be an actionable event (meaning you could sue). I’m not sure how that would apply to something like this… but you might contact some of the various orgs that deal directly with this (FFRF and ACLU).

      1. Normally, this is an elected position in which case anything goes. However, since it was to fill a vacancy and only the Board could vote, I think the case could be made that a religious test was imposed. But I’m not sure.

    2. Contact groups like the FFRF and AU4Sep. File reports with them and let the experts investigate. If they find anything, they’ll come to you about filing a lawsuit for SOCAS violations. And then you have the option to force the school board to follow the law.

    3. Asking you about your religious beliefs (e.g., “Are you an atheist?”) probably would be a no-no. At least, I know we aren’t allowed to do it. But due to what the Internet search turned up, it doesn’t sound like they had to ask. I would think it would be tough to demonstrate that your atheism played a part in their decision even though it sounds like it probably did. It seems like you’d need to be able to demonstrate that they went with someone who was less qualified, but I’m really not sure.

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