FFRF provides vital testimony in two states

Testimony PR

The Freedom From Religion Foundation has testified on important issues before two statehouses this week: It opposed the suspension of Wisconsin’s student vaccination policy, and backed a bill to end an unconstitutional Maryland provision barring atheists from holding offices or trusts.

The nontheist organization provided written testimony to the Maryland Legislature in support of HB 0871, which would alter and remove references requiring a belief in God from state constitutional provisions. In a passage right after the Maryland Constitution prohibits religious tests for public office (mirroring Article VI of the U.S. Constitution), it shockingly contradicts that prohibition by barring atheists from holding office. Article 37 of the Maryland Constitution states: “That no religious test ought ever to be required as a qualification for any office of profit or trust in this state, other than a declaration of belief in the existence of God; nor shall the Legislature prescribe any other oath of office than the oath prescribed by this Constitution.” [Italics added]

There is no legitimate reason to oppose HB 0871, and every reason for the Legislature to approve the bill, FFRF declared. The wording was left in the state Constitution despite the fact that the Supreme Court unanimously overturned such discrimination in the 1961 case, Torcaso v. Watkins. In fact, nonreligious Americans are the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population by religious identification — 29 percent of American adults now identify as religiously unaffiliated, described by Pew Research as individuals who are “atheist, agnostic or nothing in particular.”

“The repeal of this provision in HB 0871 is long overdue,” FFRF Senior Policy Counsel Ryan Jayne concluded his testimony. “The only question to ponder is why this correction was not made decades or centuries ago. Please support this bill so that Marylanders have an opportunity to remove from their state Constitution this law creating invidious discrimination, in violation of the Constitution, Supreme Court precedent and basic democratic principles.”

And the state/church watchdog let its home Legislature know its strong opposition to a proposal to suspend parts of the state’s student vaccination policy. Republican leadership in the Wisconsin Statehouse is considering suspending the Department of Health Services policy, announced in February, that K-12 students must receive a meningitis vaccine in seventh grade (plus a booster in 12th grade), and either a chickenpox vaccine or medical documentation showing a history of chickenpox infection.

“Our recent experience with Covid-19 underscores the importance of legislating vaccines based on science and evidence rather than on politics,” Jayne testified. “The Legislature delegated the authority to interpret and apply current evidence to the Department of Health Services, and should not interfere with its expert conclusions. The current DHS policy is undeniably aimed at protecting Wisconsin students based on our best understanding of the current science on outbreaks and vaccines.”

Suspending this policy places at risk the lives of Wisconsin students in order to score cheap political points, FFRF warned. One such instance was a Madison college student named Henry Mackaman, who was 21 when he suddenly died due to meningitis-B in 2013. As many as 10 to 15 percent of people who get meningococcal disease each year die, even with treatment, and up to 20 percent of survivors have permanent side effects. Chickenpox, too, is a serious disease that Wisconsin parents and adults have a responsibility to protect their children from. The disease is tremendously contagious and includes rare but serious side effects, including meningitis. All of this is preventable if we follow the expert advice, which is what the Department of Health Services has attempted to do.

“Please do not play politics with Wisconsin children’s health,” FFRF concluded. “Allow DHS to do the important work delegated to it by the Wisconsin Legislature, and focus your attention on how you can work with DHS rather than interfering with its policies.”

FFRF is delighted to offer its input on key issues such as secularism, rationality and science to legislators around the country.

The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a Madison-based national nonprofit organization with more than 40,000 members across the country, including over 1,600 members in Wisconsin and more than 700 members in Maryland. FFRF works to protect the constitutional separation between state and church, and educates about nontheism. The majority of its membership, 75 percent, identify as atheists; the rest are mainly agnostics.

Freedom From Religion Foundation

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