The Candidate Without a Prayer
Dr. Silverman is a Professor
of Mathematics at Charleston College, in Charleston, SC, a board member of
the American Humanist Association and of the South Carolina chapter of the
American Civil Liberties Union.
South Carolina has had, since
1868, a constitutional prohibition against allowing atheists to hold public
office. The United States Supreme Court had years ago invalidated a similar
provision in the Maryland constitution in its Torcaso decision and Herb
Silverman thought South Carolina’s provision was ripe for a legal challenge.
So he did what seemed to be a practical thing to do. He ran for Governor! He
also filed suit in the United States District Court in South Carolina. The
judge ruled that the case was "not ripe" and that he would rule on it only
if Silverman won the election. The chance of an open atheist being elected
Governor of South Carolina is about zero.
Frustrated in his fight for
the right to run for Governor, Silverman started Secular Humanists of the
Low Country. He also filed an application to become a notary public.
Certification as a notary public also required one to profess a belief in a
deity. He crossed out the religious reference on the form and his
application was rejected. He again filed suit. The State of South Carolina
fought him all the way and a former governor filed an 86-page deposition in
support of the constitutional provision. In August 1995 a judge ruled in
Silverman's favor. The case was appealed by the State to the South Carolina
Supreme Court. That Court, citing the precedent in the Torcaso decision,
also ruled in Silverman's favor in May 1997. He finally received his
commission as a notary public!
Report prepared by Wayne Luney, HAGSA Recorder
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