Dec 11, 2012
If you read to the end of an article at Slate.com about countries where you can be executed for being an atheist, you will find a mention of Maryland. No, not for that, of course, but Maryland is listed as one of seven states where it is illegal for an atheist to hold public office.
What’s up with that?
It’s in Article 37 of the state constitution, which reads, in part: “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.”
However, though the article remains, it was successfully challenged in 1961 by Roy R. Torcaso, who had refused to swear an oath in Montgomery County Circuit Court affirming his belief in God in order to become a notary public. Torcaso’s case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in his favor.
Associate Justice Hugo Black’s opinion said government may not “constitutionally force a person ‘to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion.’ [Government may not] constitutionally pass laws or impose requirements which aid all religions as against non-believers.”
Torcasco became a notary public, swearing to uphold the laws of Maryland and the U.S. Constitution, his obituary in the Washington Post said. He died in 2007 at age 96.