Are U.S. politicians assumed to be Christians (no matter which sect)? Is it possible for an atheist or Muslim believer to become US president? Are there any legal obstacles?


4 Answers 4


There is no law in the US that says that holders of any office need to be of any particular religion, in fact, any such law would be unconstitutional.

Being an Atheist of Muslim might fewer people vote for you, but if you do get enough votes, there is no law that says that you can't hold office due to religion.


Article Six of the US Constitution prohibits the federal government from rejecting a duly selected politician from being installed into the seat for which he was elected, on the basis of religion (or lack thereof).

But it does not prevent localities from setting rules of their choice for becoming a candidate in the first place, which is obviously a pre-requisite for being selected. (Note that in practice these offices are now filled by election, but this wasn't historically the case.)

In most cases those rules consist of requirements on age, residency, and a criminal record clean of felonies. In addition, being listed on the ballot, which is a de facto if not de jure prerequisite to election, collecting a certain number of signatures. But there surely are weirder requirements in some jurisdictions.

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    Are there any federal offices for which the rules of becoming a candidate include restrictions or requirements on religion? E.g. a congressional district or something.
    – KRyan
    May 29, 2014 at 17:20
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    @KRyan: I don't believe that there are today. But there were, and continued to be, official state religions, at the time the Constitution and Bill of Rights were enacted, and state legislatures certainly were not appointing non-Christians to represent them in the federal Senate, so anyone who claims that religious tests are constitutionally forbidden is ignorant of the original intent. (Naturally later amendments are a different story, but even the Fourteenth simply guarantees that states cannot interfere with the right not to have religion impeded by Congress)
    – Ben Voigt
    May 29, 2014 at 17:24
  • @BenVoigt - I would argue that Deists aren't really Christians. In which case you're wrong about original intent
    – user4012
    May 29, 2014 at 19:24
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    @DVK: That perhaps illustrates the difficulty men find in testing other mens' beliefs. Washington was active in a Christian church, enough so to meet religious requirements for holding office in colonial America
    – Ben Voigt
    May 29, 2014 at 20:24
  • @DVK: Besides, I'm not sure how you get from a claim that Washington was a Deist, to arguing that he wanted to prohibit other communities from setting their own standards.
    – Ben Voigt
    May 29, 2014 at 20:29

In theory it is possible, there are no legal obstacles (at least not for the USA as a whole).

In practice, at least right now, it is completely impossible for an atheist to be elected president, given that about 25% of Americans think that "Only politicians who believe in God are suitable for public office", about 50% find atheism "threatening", and (admittedly some time ago) elected as president someone who publically stated that he doesn't consider atheists citizens.

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    Well, impossible for a publically avowed atheist, anyway.
    – Ben Voigt
    May 29, 2014 at 16:29
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    @BenVoigt Religion will come up in any presidential race, and those for most lower positions as well, so short of lying, an atheist really has no chance even to get through the election without that fact coming out.
    – Kevin
    May 29, 2014 at 17:33
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    @Kevin: There are multiple politicians who publicly claim to be Roman Catholic, despite having done things that cause automatic expulsion from that church. So "lying" about religion seems to not be uncommon.
    – Ben Voigt
    May 29, 2014 at 20:27
  • Wasn’t there even one president who changed his confession to increase his changes for being elected. Also, given the demographics I consider it very unlikely that no US president so far was an atheist.
    – Wrzlprmft
    May 29, 2014 at 23:21
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    @MatteoItalia: Most USA citizens have an understanding of "separation of church and state" which is much more in line with the original letter in which the phrase was used, than do the judicial opinions citing it. To wit, that it means for the government to keep its hands out of the church, not for the government to decree that religious people and groups do not have a voice.
    – Ben Voigt
    May 30, 2014 at 5:43

Yes. As the vast majority of Americans are Christian, it is safe to assume that a given politician is also Christian, in the absence of any claims otherwise.

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    Downvotes are because...?
    – Tiberia
    Jun 2, 2014 at 21:55
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    I down-voted because I think it's a lousy answer. Not only does it not address the spirit of the question, not only is it essentially a "I don't know" sort of answer, but it's not entirely correct either. There are a number of Jewish politicians in the US, and if you go around assuming that all politicians are Christian, you'll be wrong some of the time. Jun 3, 2014 at 16:58

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