Matt Steinglass at the Economist laments that voters require politicians to be overtly religious, and is even more bothered by laws that do so. He is specifically creeped out by an (unconstitutional) law which bans anyone who “denies the existence of the Supreme Being” from holding state office in South Carolina. Eight other states, it turns out, have similar laws on their books. This prompted Matt to ask the following hypothetical:
So the federal constitution’s rule against “tests” of religion for public office has been upheld. But this seems to me to set up a don’t ask-don’t tell situation. What if a sitting governor, apart from any such test, were to just get up and announce: “There is no God”?
My guess is that it depends on where they are when they do it. If it was done inexplicably in the middle of one of the many ceremonies or ribbon cutting events that governors attend, it would probably be met with the some concern. Or if they were at a state funeral for some dignitary or war hero it would probably be even worse.
Delivery is also important. In any situation it would always be worse to stand up and announce “there is no God” while in the audience and interrupting someone else’s speech rather than in the middle of one of their own. Interrupting Obama during the State of the Union in the same style that Kayne West did to Taylor Swift would likely be the worst possible way to do it.
Saying it once at a normal speaking volume and then sitting down immediately is probably best, while screaming it over and over again would be worst, with a repetitive, tearful whisper somewhere in between.
Governor: “There is no God!”
There are probably very few times and places where a politician could get away with it. Maybe the only good time to and place would be during a particularly religiously hateful Pat Robertson speech. I could see voters responding well to that.