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Re: church-state separation and the Tennessee Constitution

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  • thekoba@aztecfreenet.org
    ... Dear Eric, Perhaps that was a remnant of the old view that government officials should be paid little or nothing to insure that only those who were
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 16, 2003
      >
      >Dear Kevin,
      >
      >When I was a boy in Tennessee in the 1960s one of our
      >public school courses was, predictably, government or
      >"Civics" as it was then called, a section of which was
      >devoted to Tennessee government.
      >
      >Naturally, a major part of that was the study of the
      >Tennessee state constitution. I don't know if the
      >same constitution is still in force in Tennessee, but
      >the one in force in the state then was written just
      >after the end of Reconstruction and its main
      >preoccupation was to return Tennessee to the
      >ante-bellum condition as far as that was possible, and
      >to keep it that way.
      >
      >Thus, interracial marriages were prohibited and a
      >"Negro" was defined as anyone being as much as
      >one-eighth Black. In other words if you had one great
      >grandparent who was a Black, you were classed as
      >Black. I like to point out that the Nazis, who are
      >usually regarded as the most odious racists of all
      >time, only went back to grandparents in defining
      >membership in the mythical race of "Jews".
      >
      >The Tennessee constitution was a long and tedious
      >document (or so it seemed at the time) and it went
      >into great detail on lots of matters of
      >administration. Since its aim was quite openly to
      >prevent change it was also made deliberately hard to
      >amend as well. So as of about 1968 it had few
      >amendments, and therefore state officials were tied to
      >salaries that had only been increased once or twice
      >with great difficulty since the 1870s.

      Dear Eric,

      Perhaps that was a remnant of the old view that government
      officials should be paid little or nothing to insure that
      only those who were independently wealthy would be able to
      serve. That the way the British kept middle class and working
      class people out of parliment in the 19th Century (in addition
      to property qualifications for voting). In Arizona we still
      have that battle over state legislators' salaries. In the
      1980s there was a lot of resistance to increasing the annual
      salary from $6,000 to $15,000 (which was back then marginally
      a living wage). Now it's finally up to $24,000, and there has
      been strong resistance to measures to increase it to $36,000.

      >Another seriously anti-democratic aspect of the
      >document was that it specifically forbade "atheists
      >and agnostics" from holding any public office in the
      >State of Tennessee. I remember that distinctly since
      >at that time I felt it put me beyond the pale, so to
      >speak.

      Supposedly the 14th amendment forbids that by granting
      the privileges and immunities of citizens of the
      United States to citizens of each state, and the
      federal constitution forbids the use of any religious
      test as qualification for public office.

      American Atheists put up a fight in court over South
      Carolina's provision forbidding religious tests as
      qualification for public office EXCEPT a test to
      determine if the candidate for public office believed
      in Almighty God. I don't remember what the outcome
      of that was. Perhaps Mike knows.

      >Curiously, however, the Tennessee Constitution also
      >banned all clergymen from holding public office. I
      >don't understand why that was, exactly. Most southern
      >clergymen were among the staunchest supporters of any
      >sort of medievalist mumbo-jumbo they could find. But
      >perhaps there were activist liberal preachers or
      >possibly it was a result of the Baptists' rather
      >petty-bourgeois insistence that there be NO state
      >interference in religion whatsoever.

      That IS interesting.

      >Of course all these provisions were regarded as
      >more-or-less dead letters even in the late 1960s,
      >given the stand of the US Supreme Court on such
      >things. But when I pointed out the atheist ban to my
      >Civics teacher his response was that "well, an atheist
      >could never get elected anyway."
      >
      >Obviously hypocrites could, however.

      Hardly anyone BUT hypocrites get elected.

      >Anyhow, all this long discourse was simply to say that
      >banning certain forms of "expression" by clergymen is
      >not unknown in the United States -- even in unexpected
      >"corners" of the history of this country.

      Yes, I'd never have suspected Tennissee of all places
      of having such a proviso.

      Comradely,

      Kevin
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