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Atheists Need Not Apply

The June 10 issue of Tribune of the People shows the outlines of seven states: Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Maryland.  What do they all have in common?  Well, if you said that they were all in Dixie I would have to give credit for that.  If you said that they were some of the least-progressive states in the union, I would give partial credit.  Maryland is possibly one of the most progressive states in the union.  The others not so much.  Without any further ado, I will give you the answer:

All of the above-mentioned states have, as a part of their state constitution that Atheists cannot hold public office.  In the case of my state, Maryland, it is in article 37 of the state constitution.  The shame of it all!  I spoke to a state representative to see how difficult it would be to have that article removed from the constitution.  After all, it is unconstitutional and therefore, unenforceable. Even so, I was told, it might be dangerous politically to try to remove it.  Hence, it lives on making us Marylanders look stupid and bigoted.

On the bright side, things used to be worse.  The original Maryland Constitution of 1776 provided that, “all persons professing the Christian religion are equally entitled to protection in their religious liberty”.  In Article 35 it was stated that, “No other test or qualification ought to be required on admission to any office of trust or profit than such oath of support and fidelity to the State, and a declaration of belief in the Christian religion”.

Thomas Kennedy was born in Paisley, Scotland in 1776.  He sailed for Georgetown (which used to be a part of Maryland before the establishment of our nation’s capitol) in 1795.  Kennedy established himself in Maryland and was elected to the House of Delegates in 1817 representing Hagerstown.  He was always very interested in social issues and this Scottish Presbyterian took up the fight of putting the Jewish inhabitants in Maryland on equal footing with their Christian neighbors.

Thomas Kennedy never met a Jew but he was outraged by the injustice of excluding an entire group of people because of their religious belief.  He proposed a bill in January 1819 to overcome that injustice, but it was defeated.  The following year, Kennedy introduced the bill again — and it was defeated again.  In 1823 Kennedy, because of his continual fight for civil justice was voted out of office.  In 1825 Kennedy ran for the House of Delegates as an independent and was elected.  By this time, public and press opinion had shifted and in 1826 his proposal became law.  A few months later, two Jews were elected to the Baltimore City Council.

When Kennedy’s term was up, he decided to return to Hagerstown and establish a newspaper — The Hagerstown Mail.  A bit later, he represented Hagerstown in the Maryland General Assembly to serve out the term of a person who had died.

An epidemic of Asiatic cholera claimed the life of Thomas Kennedy in October 1832.  His newspaper still exists as the Hagerstown Herald-Mail.

In 1995 the Speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates established the Speaker’s Society for all past and present members of the House of Delegates.  At the inaugural meeting on March 22, 1995 the Society presented the first annual Thomas Kennedy Award.  This award is given each year to a member of the Society, in recognition of his or her outstanding contribution to the democratic process.


This is the inscription on the Thomas Kennedy burial monument in Hagerstown.  The monument was erected by some local Jewish citizens in recognition of services rendered by Thomas Kennedy in the Maryland Legislature of 1818.

The original article about Thomas Kennedy was produced by the Maryland State Archives.


One comment on “Atheists Need Not Apply

  1. Great article, thank you for sharing it. There is so much that needs to change, but I can offer some hope: this college generation is, in my opinion as a professor, very good on a lot of issues. I don’t necessarily mean they are all liberals or socialists, as that is certainly not the case. Instead, they don’t carry the cultural baggage that both the Boomers and even Gen-X to some extent (of which I am a part) carried. They generally do not care about race, or abortion, or someone’s religion (with an obvious exception), or sexual orientation (again, with exceptions). As silly as it often was, the “politically correct” movement actually worked in some ways. (The exception being the “everyone wins” scenario.) They may not be thrilled with Obama in some ways, but they are more easily convinced that the Republicans are largely to blame for this astonishing mess after careful demonstration. More of them seem to have a very loose affiliation to a religion if at all. I have noticed an increase in the number of students who’s parents did not regularly attend church, even at Catholic schools. Absurdities such as these anti-athiest laws, therefore, are (again, generally speaking) not long for this world.

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