Applicants don’t need to “believe in god” to become notary (September 16, 2014)

The N.C. Notary Public Education Program in Raleigh, N.C., will no longer allow an instructor to misinform students. A student who took a notary public course contacted FFRF to report that an instructor repeatedly told students they “must believe in god to be a notary.”

On Sept. 5, FFRF Staff Attorney Elizabeth Cavell sent a letter to the General Counsel of the N.C. Department of the Secretary of State to remind them that the U.S. Constitution prohibits any sort of religious test for public office, including notary public:

“I am sure the DSOS recognizes that a belief in god cannot be required in order to obtain a notary public commission (indeed we are informed this information is not in the notary handbook.) [The instructor] may mistakenly believe that Article 6, Section 8 of the North Carolina constitution requires notaries public to believe in god, but this section is unconstitutional and should not be presented as current law. If any instructor in the Notary Public Education Program is informing applicants that belief in god is a requirement to be commissioned as a notary public, this is a serious constitutional issue since the DSOS controls the education and commissioning of notaries public in North Carolina.”

The Supreme Court issued a unanimous decision in 1961’s Torcaso case (brought by the late Roy Torcaso, an honorary director of FFRF) against religious tests for public office, specifically involving a notary public oath.

On Sept. 16, the DSOS replied: “We have reviewed the pertinent provisions of the North Carolina Constitution that apply to notaries public with [the instructor]. [The instructor] has been informed that the provision disqualifying any person from holding a public office for denying the being of Almighty God is not congruent with the U.S. Constitution and is therefore not applicable to notary applicants in North Carolina and should not be taught. Although this specific provision of the constitution is not germane to notary education, we have taken this opportunity to make sure each of our instructors understand that it is not applicable to notary applicants.”

Freedom From Religion Foundation