WHEN DID RELIGIOUS MINORITIES GET THE RIGHT TO VOTE?

It is a widely-held myth that America was founded on the principle of religious freedom for all. That isn’t true. 8 of the 13 British colonies in America had an official state church. Everyone who lived in those colonies had to pay taxes to support it, but people who did not belong to the official church could not hold public office or vote. Another myth is that the First Amendment to the Constitution guarantees the right to vote to everyone, regardless of his religion, but that isn’t true either. Neither the Constitution nor the First Amendment say anything about the right to vote. The Constitution allowed every state to decide for itself who was eligible to vote. Some states had laws prohibiting Roman Catholics from voting unless they renounced their religion or signed a statement rejecting papal authority. Some states required voters to promise that they would fight in future wars to prevent Quakers from voting. Some states banned Mennonites, Baptists, Jews, and others from voting. Between 1800 and 1828, all state laws restricting the right to vote based on religion were repealed.

MARYLAND. Maryland was the last state to stop discriminating against unpopular religious minorities. (Yes, once again I am trashing my home state.) In 1828, Maryland became the last state to get rid of religious restrictions on voting when the state legislature passed a law allowing Jews to vote. The Maryland state constitution still contains a provision that says that only Christians can hold public office or practice law in the state, but the U.S. Supreme Court no longer allows Maryland to enforce this provision. However, it is still in the Maryland state constitution. The Maryland state constitution also prohibits atheists from holding public office, serving as jurors, or testifying in court as witnesses, even in their own defense. Maryland enforced this provision until 1961. In 1960, Governor Tawes appointed Roy Torcaso a Notary Public. When Mr. Torcsao refused to sign a declaration saying that he believed in God, his appointment was immediately revoked. The Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the Maryland law was unconstitutional. The court’s ruling applied to a number of other states that had similar laws. As a result, an atheist can now become a Notary Public, a bail bondsman, a coroner, a sheriff, or a juror in Maryland.

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