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Not Even Truthy: AFA’s Fischer Says States Can Apply Religious Tests

Whether he’s predicting the imminent destruction of America at the hands of “the homosexual agenda” or issuing dire warnings about Islamic Shariah law, American Family Association (AFA) spokesman Bryan Fischer can be kind of a downer.

He took a break from his usual doomsday warnings this week to offer readers some great news: Even though the federal government can’t require public officials to pass religious tests, individual states can!


“Sheer nonsense,” Ayesha Khan, legal director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, told Hatewatch.

Why? Because fully 50 years ago, the Supreme Court ruled that “neither a State nor the Federal Government can constitutionally force a person ‘to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion.’”

The case in question, Torcaso v. Watkins, revolved around a Maryland rule requiring public officials to affirm belief in God as part of their oath of office. An atheist named Roy Torcaso refused and was denied confirmation as a notary public as a result.

Maryland’s high court upheld the rule, reasoning absurdly that since Torcaso wasn’t “compelled to hold public office,” the oath did not violate his constitutional rights. The Supreme Court disagreed utterly.

“We are all agreed that the First and Fourteenth Amendments have a secular reach far more penetrating in the conduct of Government than merely to forbid an ‘established church,’” Justice Hugo Black wrote for the majority. “We renew our conviction that we have staked the very existence of our country on the faith that complete separation between the state and religion is best for the state and best for religion.”

There’s a fun postscript to this.

Fischer has argued that the founding fathers did not intend for Muslims to be accorded the same right to religious freedom as Christians.

“Islam is entitled only to the religious liberty we extend to it out of courtesy,” he wrote in March.

Wrong again.

Justice Black in his Torcaso opinion praised the “wise and far-seeing men in the Colonies … who spoke out against test oaths and all the philosophy of intolerance behind them.”

Black referred to one of those wise men in particular, citing in a footnote the words of James Iredell, a delegate to North Carolina’s 1788 constitutional convention. Iredell helped structure the court system of that state and was in 1790 appointed by President George Washington to serve on the newly established Supreme Court of the United States of America. (It doesn’t get much more Founding Father-y than that, Bryan.)

“[I]t is objected, that the people of America may perhaps choose Representatives who have no religion at all, and that Pagans and Mahometans [Muslims] may be admitted into offices,” said Iredell, as quoted in the Torcaso opinion. “But how is it possible to exclude any set of men, without taking away that principle of religious freedom which we ourselves so warmly contend for?”

We couldn’t have put it better ourselves.

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