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South Carolina’s Secular Crusader

In a new memoir, Herb Silverman recounts his legal battle against a state ban on atheists seeking public office

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Herb Silverman. (Courtesy Pitchstone Publishing)

Not to be dissuaded from a struggle now lodged in his ethical core, he applied the following year for a state license as notary public. Silverman reasoned that if South Carolina were to grant him the license, “it would be an admission from the state that religious tests could no longer be a qualification for public office.” Naturally, he crossed out the oath on the application that said “so help me God.”

“My point,” Silverman writes, “was that it’s proper for government to regulate some behavior, but it’s neither proper nor possible to regulate belief.”

Silverman’s account of the resultant back-and-forth between his petition for a mundane license and the refusal of Gov. Campbell—his former opponent in the gubernatorial race—to approve it is the stuff of high surrealism. A deposition established that 33,471 notary applications had been approved by the state of South Carolina between 1991 and 1993. “To my knowledge,” Silverman writes, “I am the only person in the history of South Carolina to be rejected as a notary public.”

After an eight-year battle, on May 27, 1997, the State Supreme Court unanimously affirmed the circuit court’s prior ruling that the religious test was unconstitutional with reference to U.S. law. Silverman hilariously describes his jubilation at picking up his notary commission from the county clerk’s office.

Silverman went on to found the Secular Coalition for America, among other groups, to advocate nationally for greater tolerance and understanding of the non-religious constituency. While he shares his views with a minority of compatriots—16 percent of Americans declared no religious affiliation and less than 2 percent described themselves as atheists in a 2010 Gallup poll—he is clear about the importance of maintaining church-state separation and bothered by the tendency of atheists to keep their views in the closet.

“A worrying trend for me now is how politicized the Christian fundamentalist sector has become,” he told me this month just before setting off to the American Humanist Association convention in New Orleans, “running political campaigns and putting money behind them. This makes it ever more important for the secular humanist movement to communicate what they’re about.”

Some five months before the 2012 elections, American voters are already weary of the hypocritical exploitation of religion by the political class. Silverman’s brave and illuminating book may serve to open some of those closets and to prevent some of the doors of religious intolerance from being slammed in the faces of those who emerge.

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First the disclaimer : I am Jewish ,I believe in G-d (mostly)I’m very active in my temple community and I love Judaism.
This need for candidates to prove “I’m godlier than you” has been the trend since Reagan pandered to the religious right for their vote and they decided they had political power that they could use to force their views on everyone.
I would dearly love a political campaign where G-d is NEVER mentioned. I don’t care where a persons ethics come from. Give me an ethical Atheist any day over the religious people who need to push their agenda from their religious perspective.
I want a secular country. That’s what the Evangelicals supported when our country was founded. Although, once again, it was a self-serving attitude as many Catholics were coming here and they were of a Catholic agenda being pushed. The only way to keep religious freedom in this country is to keep it OUT of the Government.
I have a favorite quote from a letter that Thomas Jefferson wrote to Mrs. H Harrison Smith in 1816 :
“I never told my own religion nor scrutinized that of another. I never attempted to make a convert, nor wished to change another’s creed. I am satisfied that yours must be an excellent religion to have produced a life of such exemplary virtue and correctness. For it is in our lives ,and not from our words, that our religion must be judged.”
I couldn’t say it better !

dennyboo says:

Another Jew to make us proud?
An atheist Jew . Interesting! Not a contradiction in terms? You can be an atheist and still be considered a Jew?
But. wait a minute … you can’t be a Christian and still be considered a Jew.
Huh?
One can promote religious antagonism;religious indifference;champion the removal of prayer from public assemblies, schools, football pre-game ceremonies and still be considered a Jew?
Does Moses’ Song mean nothing? Genesis? Exodus ? Deuteronomy? Irrelevant?

Without G-d what are we? Without G-d the Torah is just a collection of myths.
AND..if that’s the case what is the basis of any claims Jews have to the Land of Promise?
The “deed to the land” then is a fake. A hoax. A ruse for land grabbing etc.
We “who were not a people are STILL NOT A People.

So what then is a Jew? Who shall stand on the side of G-d

Brian Westley says:

“One can promote religious antagonism;religious indifference;champion the removal of prayer from public assemblies, schools, football pre-game ceremonies and still be considered a Jew?”

Of course; some Christians also think that the government should stay out of the religion business. Do you have a problem with religious freedom?

“Without G-d what are we?”

H-m-n b–ngs. But with less superstitious nonsense.

emunadate says:

Even if he doesn’t believe he will always be considered a Jew…
http://emunadate.blogspot.co.il/2010/11/jews-are-only-03-of-worlds-population.html

seamus says:

Thanks, Brian. Couldn’t have said it better.

cipher says:

This need for candidates to prove “I’m godlier than you” has been the trend since Reagan pandered to the religious right for their vote and they decided they had political power that they could use to force their views on everyone

Yep. Ever since they helped to get him into office and he returned the favor by empowering them, nothing has been the same. They’ve commandeered society and made us the laughingstock of the developed world.

They’ve also spent the past three decades voting into office the criminals and lunatics chiefly responsible for our current socioeconomic debacle – a situation from which we aren’t going to recover. America is finished as a first-rate world power – and, as a result of the interconnected nature of the global economy, as we continue to go down, we’ll be taking everyone else down with us. They’ve destroyed America, and almost certainly the rest of the world as well.

Of course, they’ll never acknowledge this. As the lights go out, the last fundie, on his deathbed, will be cursing those whom he just knows to be the real culprits (because his pastor will have told him so) – the Liberals, the atheists and the gays, abetted by the godless secular Jews who control the media and the banks.

Eh, who cares? As long as they’re going to heaven, that’s all that matters.

Thanks, fundies.

B_R_Deadite99 says:

It’s not too late! We still have… [dramatic music]… The Gene Police!!

cipher says:

I wish we did have Gene Police. These maladaptive traits need to be bred out of the genome.

(Now, watch – someone will compare me to Hitler.)

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South Carolina’s Secular Crusader

In a new memoir, Herb Silverman recounts his legal battle against a state ban on atheists seeking public office

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