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Jan 25 2013

Another Pointless White House Petition

The White House “We the People” petition site is mostly useless anyway, but it’s even more useless when people make a petition for something the White House has nothing to do with or to solve a problem that doesn’t exist anymore. Here’s an example of both:

Look into state constitutions banning atheists from holding public office.

Seven states currently prohibit atheists from hiding public office. They are Arkansas, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas. This violates the “freedom of religion” in the First Amendment, as well as separation of church and state. Belief in a higher power should not be a criteria for holding public office anywhere in the United States of America.

But these provisions are unenforceable and unenforced and have been for more than half a century. The Supreme Court struck them down in 1961 in Torcaso v Watkins. What exactly is the White House supposed to “look into”? They have no ability to do anything about the issue. I’d like to see all those provisions gone too, but you might as well ask the White House to give you a pony.

28 comments

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  1. 1
    Gretchen

    And it’s poorly written. No atheists are trying to “hide” public office, and the singular form of “criteria” is “criterion,” so there.

    I don’t exactly understand how state constitutions can continue to do things like prohibit like atheists running for office, promote racial segregation, or ban sodomy, but….they do. And there isn’t anything the White House can do about it.

  2. 2
    felicis

    I want a pony.

  3. 3
    shouldbeworking

    I want a kitty.

  4. 4
    matty1

    Surely getting that death star built is a higher priority.

  5. 5
    azportsider

    Gretchen beat me to it: there’s no such thing as ‘a criteria,’ just like there’s no such thing as ‘a bacteria.’

  6. 6
    jamessweet

    FWIW, the president could issue a statement urging states to take steps to formally rescind those measures. It does say “look into”, not “change”, and the White House does have the power to “look into” it. Not that that’s worth all that much…

  7. 7
    Gregory in Seattle

    Actually, I think it serves a very useful purpose: give the sheeple an opportunity to think they are having a say. This illusion is a proven method of placating the people.

  8. 8
    jamessweet

    Regarding “criterion”, I am very much in agreement and I try to adhere to the proper usage in my own speech and writing — but that is probably a losing battle, I’m afraid. Data, media…. :p

  9. 9
    Abby Normal

    Getting those unconstitutional laws off the books would be nice. But I’d settle for a couple tickets to Cirque du Soleil and some hot, crusty bread to munch.

  10. 10
    fifthdentist

    I saw another recently asking the president to have some wingnut removed from the House Science Committee.
    My last U.S. govt. class was decades ago, but I’m pretty sure the president can’t kick comgresscritters off committees.
    I guess it’s a good thing that people are trying to be engaged, but it’d be nice if they could also be somewhat knowledgeable.

  11. 11
    democommie

    “I guess it’s a good thing that people are trying to be engaged, but it’d be nice if they could also be somewhat knowledgeable.”

    You want knowledgeable, you got the mostly silent majority; you want engaged you have the SKKKrotalMurKKKanPatriotiKKK Front.

    Dear USA management:

    I want a Death Star filled with kittens RIDING on ponies, HOP IT!

  12. 12
    Alverant

    I have to disagree. “these provisions are unenforceable and unenforced and have been for more than half a century” unfortunately you are incorrect. There was an Atheist elected in South Carolinia (one of those “no Atheists in public office” states) and someone tried to use the state constitution to remove him. The official had to spend his own time and money defending himself. To say they are unenforced is wrong. Even if the effort failed the fact that it’s still on the books means people are going to try and use it.

  13. 13
    Reginald Selkirk

    Seven states currently prohibit atheists from hiding public office.

    This is illiterate!

  14. 14
    Barefoot Bree

    Speaking of the White House Petition site, whatever happened to all those secession petitions? Did anyone official ever give any sort of response to them? I never did hear….

  15. 15
    jazzmac251

    This is a ridiculous criticism, especially coming from an atheist. The petition clearly says “look into” because the author has some idea that it may not be within the power of those he’s petitioning to actually “change” anything. But, the President does possess the power of the “Bully Pulpit”, and a passing mention of this issue in a public address would do a world of good.

    You said you’d like to see something done about the issue, but then you come down on someone that is at least trying to bring public attention to it. Seriously, what is the use of pissing on this? I find doing so somewhat disrespectful.

  16. 16
    markholcombe

    Has any Whitehouse.gov petition resulted in any legislation either proposed or enacted or any other appropriate executive action?

  17. 17
    jazzmac251

    Mark, if you’re talking to me, I can’t say I have an answer to that. What I can say, though, is that the We the People site has been good at garnering public attention to whatever is on the public’s mind at the moment. Be it examples of public stupidity – like petitioning for secession – or examples of our collective sense of humor – like petitioning to create a Death Star – these petitions can be a valuable tool for bringing eyes and ears to an issue. This cannot be denied. Bringing eyes and ears to these bullshit, insulting aspects of state constitutions sounds like a great idea to me. It’s certainly worth the 45 seconds it likely took to write and submit the petition.

  18. 18
    slc1

    Now here’s a petition we can all get behind, even though the Executive has no power to do anything about it.

    http://blogs.ocweekly.com/navelgazing/2013/01/obama_orly_taitz_whitehousegov.php

  19. 19
    Michael Heath

    Ed writes:

    The White House “We the People” petition site is mostly useless anyway . . .
    [emphasis mine - MH]

    Progress!!! See, I told you this would get better over time. (IIRC Ed initially thought this effort was totally useless when it first got going).

    I don’t find this particular petition useless for the same reason I didn’t find the petition demanding we deport Piers Morgan. Such petitions provide a cheap effective way to provide a lesson on civics to the passionate but ignorant.

    Of course such educational opportunities requires honesty and competence from the Administration, neither of which have been demonstrated on some petition responses, e.g., war on drugs, torture. So there’s plenty of room for improvement where I hope increasing public pressure creates demand which makes it more difficult for this and future Administrations (assuming they continue the program) to respond dishonesty and incompetently.

    What we really need to kick-in is for the media to better feature petition responses. I’ve found they only do so if the petition subject follows the narrative they’re already running. Therefore the Administration response on the drug war was effectively ignored.

  20. 20
    TCC

    Alverant:

    I have to disagree. “these provisions are unenforceable and unenforced and have been for more than half a century” unfortunately you are incorrect. There was an Atheist elected in South Carolinia (one of those “no Atheists in public office” states) and someone tried to use the state constitution to remove him. The official had to spend his own time and money defending himself.

    If you’re referring to Cecil Bothwell, who was elected to the Asheville, NC, city council in 2009, there was (AFAIK) no serious attempt in the courts to enforce the NC ban on atheists in public office, and Bothwell appears to have been seated without incident. If there’s a different case in the other Carolina (I know, all those Carolinas look the same to me, too), some details might be useful.

  21. 21
    caseloweraz

    Democommie wrote: “I want a Death Star filled with kittens RIDING on ponies, HOP IT!”

    War kittens???

  22. 22
    lordshipmayhem

    I want the USS Enterprise starship built!!!!

    (Actually, I want colonies on the Moon and Mars. But I’ll take the building of a TV prop in orbit for now.)

  23. 23
    Alverant

    TCC, yes it was NC, thanks for the correction. In any case resources were still wasted. It was a frivilious lawsuit that only got as far as it did because of the state constitution. With the conservative push towards “states rights”* there may be a time when the state constitution overrides the federal one. I have no doubt it will be used again requiring a further expendature of resources and maybe next time there won’t be enough to fight the lawsuit. Or worse, it gets public support and used as an example of how the “big bad government” is controlling the lives of its citizens. The sooner things are changed, the better.

    *Provided the state does something they approve of

  24. 24
    Alverant

    I also want to add that removing it will be a symbolic move foward that the states that once discriminated against non-christians have admitted they were wrong.

  25. 25
    thebookofdave

    If Vermin Supreme had won the primary contest, you would have gotten your pony! It’s too late to cry about it now.

  26. 26
    Michael Heath

    markholcombe writes:

    Has any Whitehouse.gov petition resulted in any legislation either proposed or enacted or any other appropriate executive action?

    There’s been many petitions which were consistent with what the Administration already supported, so yes to your first question, though that doesn’t validate the petition process instigated that process.

    I think this blog post by the White House validates Ed’s observation that the petition process has been mostly useless. Note that nowhere in the post do they make any assertions about policy changes instigated by any petition. Instead they celebrate how the volume of petitions and petitioners is so large. One could argue they’re slapping themselves on their own back on how they’ve played us for suckers.

    That blog post I link to above has an embedded link another blog post describing results from the White House petition process. In that post we see two potentially tangible successes. I view that as an enormous failure though not unexpected. I don’t think the scarcity of successes is reason to lose hope this won’t eventually become a successful interface between government and people.

  27. 27
    TCC

    Alverant, you seem to have caught my correction but not the real point of my post, which was to say that there isn’t any evidence that resources were expended. Who brought a court case against Bothwell? I can’t find anything to that effect, only some mentions of people talking about how he shouldn’t be seated. If your disagreement with Ed is on the basis of real resources being expended to defend an atheist against this unenforceable law, then you need to establish that it’s actually happened first.

  28. 28
    paulg

    In a graduate course I was assigned to find a Wikipedia article on a subject relevant to the course and either redo or substantially update it. It was actually pretty fun and had a bit of a civic duty feel to it (science literacy outreach and all).

    I’d be a fan of having law students, hell even undergrad poli sci majors, assigned projects to scour the local legal codes for these sorts of obsolete laws and send proposals to lawmakers. With so many still on the books, seems like nobody else is doing it.

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