A Hazy State of Separation


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Silverman crossed out all references to God on his application before submitting it, and his commission was denied. Silverman said he talked with Torcaso during the litigation and drew inspiration from him.

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What a wonderful afterlife for Roy! His opponents insisted that Bothwell, an atheist, was not legally qualified to hold office in the state. They threatened court action, which never materialized. Yet, successful candidates like Bothwell remain an exception. Although legally non-believers cannot be barred from public office, they usually face steep odds against getting elected if they are open about their views.

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The American public, it seems, has chosen to apply its own version of a religious test for public office. A Gallup poll, for example, found that 53 percent of respondents said they would not vote for an atheist for president, even if he or she were otherwise qualified. No other minority group polled such high negatives.

Forty-three percent said they would not vote for a gay candidate, while 24 percent said they would not back a Mormon.


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The religious tests for public office received a little more attention than usual in when former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, who is Mormon, began campaigning for president. The film sang the praises of Article VI in a rather obvious attempt to calm evangelical fears of a Mormon president. Special screenings were held in evangelical churches, but the ploy fell flat. As for Roy Torcaso, he lived a long life, dying on June 9, , at age A Washington Post obituary noted that Torcaso saw his case in big-picture terms. Bill was 9 at the time, and he attended the oral argument along with his two sisters, Linda, age 14, and Susan, 2.

My sister Linda had a greater concept of what was going on.

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That evening, the family enjoyed a meal in a Chinese restaurant. He had to find another, and that was a financial strain on the family. After the case, there were a few houses in the neighborhood where I was not allowed to enter and play. She earned a law degree and is now an administrative law judge with the Social Security Administration in Philadelphia. We had lawyers coming in and out of the house from the ACLU. There were not many women lawyers back in those days, but it occurred to me that I could do this.

Fifty years later, she said, it can be hard for people to grasp how meaningful the victory was. He went to Lynchburg to protest the Moral Majority, and he attended pro-choice marches in the capital. He just did not believe that religion should enforce its views on the whole of society. He really believed that everyone should have the right to choose their own views. Bill was 9 at the time, and he attended the oral argument along with his two sisters, Linda, age 14, and Susan, 2. My sister Linda had a greater concept of what was going on.

That evening, the family enjoyed a meal in a Chinese restaurant. He had to find another, and that was a financial strain on the family. After the case, there were a few houses in the neighborhood where I was not allowed to enter and play. She earned a law degree and is now an administrative law judge with the Social Security Administration in Philadelphia.

We had lawyers coming in and out of the house from the ACLU. There were not many women lawyers back in those days, but it occurred to me that I could do this. Fifty years later, she said, it can be hard for people to grasp how meaningful the victory was.


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He went to Lynchburg to protest the Moral Majority, and he attended pro-choice marches in the capital. He just did not believe that religion should enforce its views on the whole of society. He really believed that everyone should have the right to choose their own views.

Torcaso, I just want you to know that you are one of my minor heroes. He also had a dogged persistence in righting wrongs. You sensed he had a strong passion, but it was beneath the surface. That was not his manner.

Even when speaking to people who were getting excited, he remained calm. Active in the American Humanist Association, he became a humanist celebrant and began officiating at weddings in some states. In , Torcaso visited Americans United to voice his frustration over laws in Virginia that limited the right to preside at weddings to ordained clergy.

His attempt to challenge that law in Virginia courts was unsuccessful. Torcaso took on other causes as well. As a boy growing up in Washington state, he learned an appreciation for the land and as an adult was active in the environmental movement. He also worked for civil rights and in the s stood up to residents who attempted to block integration of his neighborhood.

But Torcaso will always be remembered most for his case striking down state religious tests for public office. Khan, legal director of Americans United. Discrimination In The Name of Religion. Government Support Of Religion.

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A Hazy State of Separation A Hazy State of Separation
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