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- 1 British Test Act of 1673 and 1678
- 2 Religious Tests by State
- 3 New Jersey
- 4 Pennsylvania
- 5 Delaware
- 6 Maryland
- 7 North Carolina
- 8 South Carolina
- 9 Massachusetts
- 10 New Hampshire
- 11 Virginia
- 12 Catholic Relief Act of 1829
- 13 University requirement for Masters Degree
- 14 Religious Test for a Monarch
- 15 About Religious Tests
- 16 Founding period letters regarding Religious Tests
- 17 From Oliver Ellsworth
- 18 From Luther Martin
- 19 From Samuel Holden
- 20 From the Reverend Daniel Shute and Colonel William Jones
- 21 From Isaac Backus
- 22 From William Williams
- 23 From Joseph Spencer
- 24 From Zachariah Johnston
- 25 From Henry Abbot and James Iredell
- 26 From Rev. David Caldwell and Samuel Spencer
- 27 From Benjamin Franklin
- 28 From James Madison
- 29 Jefferson's Bill of Religious Liberty, 1779
British Test Act of 1673 and 1678
The Test Act of 1673 in England obligated all persons filling any office, civil or military, to take oaths of supremacy and allegiance, to subscribe to a declaration against transubstantiation, and to receive the sacrament within three months of taking office.
The oath for the Test Act of 1673 was:
- "I, N, do declare that I do believe that there is not any transubstantion in the sacrament of the Lord's Supper, or in the elements of the bread and wine, at or after the consecration thereof by any person whatsovever."
In 1678 the act was extended thus:
- "I, N, do solemnly and sincerely in the presence of God profess, testify, and declare, that I do believe that in the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper there is not any Transubstantiation of the elements of bread and wine into the Body and Blood of Christ at or after the consecration thereof by any person whatsoever: and that the invocation or adoration of the Virgin Mary or any other Saint, and the Sacrifice of the Mass, as they are now used in the Church of Rome, are superstitious and idolatrous..."
Religious Tests by State
Following is a sequential list of Religious Tests, along with clauses from State constitutions about them in the United States during the founding period:
1. From the CONSTITUTION of NEW JERSEY, 1776: "that there shall be no establishment of any one religious sect in this province, in preference to another; and that no Protestant inhabitant of this colony shall be denied the enjoyment of any civil right, merely on account of his religious principles; but that all persons, professing a belief in the faith of any Protestant sect, who shall demean themselves peaceably under the government, as hereby established, shall be capable of being elected into office of profit or trust, or being a member of either branch of the legislature........." In 1844, new constitution changes language to read: "there shall be no establishment of one religious sect in preference to another; no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust; and no person shall be denied the enjoyment of any civil right merely on account of his religious principles"
2. From the CONSTITUTION of PENNSYLVANIA, 1776: "that all men have a natural and unalienable right to worship almighty god according to the dictates of their own consciences and understanding: nor can any man, who acknowledges the being of a god, be justly deprived or abridged of any civil right as a citizen, on account of his religious sentiments of peculiar mode of religious worship......." "and each member, before he takes his seat, shall make and subscribe the following declaration, viz: "I do believe in one god, the creator and governor of the universe, the rewarder of the good and the punisher of the wicked, and I do acknowledge the scriptures of the old and new testament to be given by divine inspiration" In 1790 and then again in 1838, 1873, constitutions add language to read: "that no person, who acknowledges the being of a god and a future state of rewards and punishments, shall on account of his religious sentiments, be disqualified to hold any office or place of trust or profit under this commonwealth" In 1790, 1838 & 1873 no direct constitutional language involving religious test can be found.
3. From the CONSTITUTION of DELAWARE, 1776: "every person who shall be chosen a member of either house, or appointed to any office or place of trust, before taking his seat, or entering upon the execution of his office, shall take the following oath, or affirmation, if conscientiously scrupulous of taking an oath, to wit: I, A.B., do profess faith in god the father, and in Jesus Christ his only son, and in the holy ghost, one god, blessed for evermore; and I do acknowledge the holy scriptures of the old and new testament to be given by divine inspiration" In 1792, 1831 and 1897, new constitutions remove previous test and adds language to read: "no religious test shall be required as a qualification to any office, or public trust, under this state"
4. From the CONSTITUTION of MARYLAND, 1776: "that no other test or qualification ought to be required on admission to any office of trust or profit, than such oath of support and fidelity to this state, and such oath of office, as shall be directed by this convention, of the legislature of this state, and a declaration of a belief in the Christian religion" "that every person, appointed to any office of profit or trust, shall, before he enters on the execution thereof, take the following oath; to with: I, A.B., swear, that I do not hold myself bound in allegiance to the king of Great Britain , and that I will be faithful, and bear true allegiance to the state of Maryland; and shall also subscribe a declaration of his belief in the Christian religion" In 1851 and 1864, new constitution changes language to read: "that no other test or qualification ought to be required on admission to any office of trust of profit, than such oath of office as may be prescribed by this constitution, or by the laws of the state, and a declaration of belief in the Christian religion; and if the party shall profess to be a Jew, the declaration shall be of his belief in a future state of rewards and punishments"
5. From the CONSTITUTION of NORTH CAROLINA, 1776: "that no person, who shall deny the being of god or the truth of the Protestant religion, or the divine authority either of the old or new testaments, or who shall hold religious principles incompatible with the freedom and safety of the state, shall be capable of holding any office or place of trust or profit in the civil department within this state" In 1835, amendments change language to read: "no person who shall deny the being of god, or the truth of the Christian religion, or the divine authority of the old or new testament, or who shall hold religious principles incompatible with the freedom or safety of the state, shall be capable of holding any office of trust of profit in the civil department within this state" In 1868 and 1876, new constitution changes language to read: "the following classes of persons shall be disqualified for office: first, all persons who shall deny the being of almighty god....."
6. From the CONSTITUTION of SOUTH CAROLINA, 1778: "the house of representatives shall all be of the Protestant religion......no person shall be eligible to a seat in the said senate unless he be of the Protestant religion......the qualifications of electors shall be that every free white man, and no other person, who acknowledged the being of a god, and believes in a future state of rewards and punishment... ....no person shall be eligible to sit in the House of Representatives unless he be of the Protestant religion...." In 1790, new constitution omits any mention of religious tests or requirements whatsoever.
7. From the CONSTITUTION of MASSACHUSETTS, 1780: "the governor shall be chosen annually; and no person shall be eligible to this office, unless, he shall declare himself to be the Christian religion......there shall be annually elected a lieutenant-governor of the commonwealth of Massachusetts, and who shall be qualified, in point of religion, property, and residence........any person chosen governor, lieutenant-governor, councilor, senator, or representative, shall before he proceed to execute the duties of his place or office, make and subscribe the following declaration, viz: I do declare, that I believe the Christian religion, and have a firm persuasion of its truth"
8. From the CONSTITUTION of NEW HAMPSHIRE, 1784 and 1792: "......no person shall be capable of being elected a senator, who is not of the Protestant religion.......members of the house of representatives shall be of the Protestant religion, and shall cease to represent such town, parish, or place immediately on his ceasing to be qualified as aforesaid.........the president (governor) shall be of the Protestant religion........the qualifications for counsellors, shall be the same as those required for senators........."
9. From the VIRGINIA BILL of RELIGIOUS LIBERTY, (amendment to 1776 CONSTITUTION): "that our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions any more than our opinions in physics or geometry; and therefore proscribing any citizen as unworthy the public confidence by laying upon him an incapacity of being called to offices of trust or emolument unless he profess or renounce this or that religious opinion is depriving him injudiciously of those privileges and advantages to which in common with his fellow citizens, he has a natural right; that it tends to corrupt the principles of that very religion it is meant to encourage, by proscribing with a monopoly of worldly honors and emoluments those who will externally profess and conform to it............. that no man shall suffer on account of his religious opinion or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess and by argument to maintain their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge or affect their civil capacities" Note that the CONSTITUTION of VIRGINIA, 1776 did not have a religious test in it, therefore, religious tests for office, just as all religious establishments in regards to government, whether they be traditional or otherwise, all of a sudden, received no constitutional support or backing for their existence. This, and other things like this, because of tradition, could and did still go on until someone sues in a court of law for a change to adhere to constitutional authority. In 1830, 1864, 1870 and 1902, new constitution changes language to read: "no man shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burdened in his body or goods, or otherwise suffer, on account of his religious opinion of belief; but all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and the same shall in no wise affect, diminish, or enlarge their civil capacities and the legislature shall not prescribe any religious test whatever........"
Catholic Relief Act of 1829
The necessity of receiving the sacrament as a qualification for office was abolished under George IV, and all acts requiring the taking of oaths and declarations against transubstantiation etc. were repealed by the Roman Catholic Relief Act of 1829.
University requirement for Masters Degree
Until 1871 a religious test was still necessary at the University of Oxford before a Master's Degree could be conferred, but there is now no religious test associated with any degree. However, religious tests are still required for admission to certain holy orders.
A religious test generally applicable to public office could only be permitted under the European Convention on Human Rights if it were accepted that the core value of every office was a religious one, so it is unlikely that a religious test would be acceptable for any non-religious office (or office which had a distinct quasi-religious basis).
Religious Test for a Monarch
The Sovereign of the United Kingdom is, in effect, required to take a religious test, as a result of the Coronation Oath Act 1688, Bill of Rights 1688, Act of Settlement 1701, and the Accession Declaration Act 1910.
About Religious Tests
Religious tests like those of the Test Acts are banned by the No Religious Test Clause in the United States by Article VI of the United States Constitution. It may be said that the Religious Test clause of the Federal constitution prohibits Religious tests for office, as the clause reads “no religious test shall ever be [required]”, but that does not prohibit the act from taking place, so that does not deter religious people from taking one anyway as most elected officials participate in the act of a religious test when they take office by placing their hands on a bible and swearing in and saying “so help me God” at the end. (Saying "so help me God" is not required anywhere in the U.S. either and if it is, it's unconstitutional, as the example of the presidential oath or affirmation does not require one for the highest office in the land.) By doing this, they are proving that they are bible believing religious people although it’s not required for admission to public office any more. Also, the prohibition of not being able to take a Religious Test for some religious people is very offensive, so they tend to do it anyway.
Founding period letters regarding Religious Tests
Letters for and against Religious Tests from the founding period are numerous, here are a few of them:
From Oliver Ellsworth
"NO RELIGIOUS TEST SHALL EVER BE REQUIRED A LANDHOLDER" [OLIVER ELLSWORTH] VII CONNECTICUT COURANT (HARTFORD), DECEMBER 17, 1787, TO THE LANDHOLDERS AND FARMERS. I have often admired the spirit of candour, liberality, and justice, with which the convention began and completed the important object of their mission. "in all our deliberations on this subject," say they, "we kept steadily in our view, that which appears to us the greatest interest of every true American, the consolidation of our union, in which is involved our prosperity, felicity, safety, perhaps our national existence. This important consideration, seriously and deeply impressed on our minds, led each state in the convention to be less rigid on points of inferior magnitude, than might otherwise have been expected; and thus the constitution which we now present, is the result of a spirit of amity, and of that mutual deference and concession, which the peculiarity of our political situation rendered indispensable." Let us, my fellow citizens, take up this constitution with the same spirit of candour and liberality; consider it in all its parts; consider the important advantages which may be derived from it, and the fatal consequences which will probably follow from rejecting it. If any objections are made against it, let us obtain full information on the subject, and then weigh these objections in the balance of cool impartial reason. Let us see if they be not wholly groundless; but if upon the whole they appear to have some weight, let us consider well, whether they be so important, that we ought on account of them to reject the whole constitution. Perfection is not the lot of human institutions; that which has the most excellencies and fewest faults, is the best that we can expect. Some very worthy persons, who have not had great advantages for information, have objected against that clause in the constitution, which provides, that no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States. They have been afraid that this clause is unfavourable to religion. But, my countrymen, the soul purpose and effect of it is to exclude persecution, and to secure to you the important right of religious liberty. We are almost the only people in the world, who have a full enjoyment of this important right of human nature. In our country every man has a right to worship god in that way which is most agreeable to his own conscience. If he be a good and peaceable citizen, he is liable to no penalties or incapacities on account of his religious sentiments; of in other words, he is not subject to persecution. But in other parts of the world, it has been, and still is, far different; systems of religious error have been adopted, in times of ignorance. It has been the interest of tyrannical kings, popes, and prelates, to maintain these errors. When the clouds of ignorance began to vanish, and the people grew more enlightened, there was no other way to keep them in error, but to prohibit their altering their religious opinions by severe persecuting laws. In this way persecution became general throughout Europe. It was the universal opinion that one religion must be established by laws; and that all, who differed in their religious opinions, must suffer the vengeance of persecution. In pursuance of this opinion, when popery was abolished in England, and the church of England was established in its stead, severe penalties were inflicted upon all who dissented from the established church. In the time of the civil wars, in the reign of Charles I, the Presbyterians got the upper hand, and inflicted legal penalties upon all who differed from them in their sentiments respecting religious doctrines and discipline. When Charles II was restored, the church of England was likewise restored, and the Presbyterians and other dissenters were laid under legal penalties and incapacities. It was in this reign, that a religious test was established as a qualification for office; that is a laws made requiring all officers civil and military (among other things) to receive the sacrament of the lord’s supper, according to the usage of the church of England, written six months after their admission to office, under the penalty of 500l and disability to hold the office. And by another statute of the same reign, no person was capable of being elected to any office relating to the government of any city or corporation, unless, within a twelvemonth before, he had received the sacrament according to the rites of the Church of England. The pretense for making these severe laws, by which all but churchmen were made incapable of any office civil or military, was to exclude the papists; but the real design was to exclude the Protestant dissenters. From this account of test-laws, there arises an unfavourable presumption against them. But if we consider the nature of them and the effects which they are calculated to produce, we shall find that they are useless, tyrannical, and peculiarly unfit for the people of this country. A religious test is an act to be done, or profession to be made, relation to religion (such as partaking of the sacrament according to certain rites and forms, or declaring one’s belief of certain doctrines,) for the purpose of determining, whether his religious opinions are such, that he is admissible to a public office. A test in favour of any one denomination of Christians would be to the last degree absurd in the United States. If it were in favour of either Congregationalists, Presbyterians, Episcopalians, Baptists, or Quakers; it would incapacitate more than three fourths of the American citizens for any public office; and thus degrade them from the rank of freemen. There needs no argument to prove that the majority of our citizens would never submit to this indignity. If any test-act were to be made, perhaps the least exceptionable would be one, requiring all persons appointed to office, to declare, at the time of their admission, their belief in the being of a god, and in the divine authority of the scriptures. In favour of such a test, it may be said, that one who believes these great truths, will not be so likely to violate his obligations to his country, as one who disbelieves them; we may have greater confidence in his integrity. But I answer: his making a declaration of such a belief is no security at all. For suppose him to be an unprincipled man, who disbelieves neither the word not the being of a god; and to be governed merely by selfish motives; how easy it is for him to dissemble? How easy is it for him to make a public declaration of his belief in the creed which the law prescribes; and excuse himself by calling it a mere formality? This is the case with the test-laws and creeds in England. The most abandoned characters partake of the sacrament, in order to qualify themselves for public employments. The clergy are obliged by law to administer the ordinance unto them; and thus prostitute the most sacred office of religion; for it is a civil right in the party to receive the sacrament. In that country, subscribing to the thirty-nine articles is a test for admission into holy orders. And it is a fact, that many of the clergy do this; when at the same time, they totally disbelieve several of the doctrines contained in them. In short, test-laws are utterly ineffectual; they are no security at all; because men of loose principles will by external compliance, evade them. If they exclude any persons, it will be honest men, men of principle, who will rather suffer an injury, than act contrary of the dictates of their consciences. If we mean to have those appointed to public offices, who are sincere friends to religion; we the people who appoint them, must take care to choose such characters; and not rely upon such cob-web barriers as test-laws are. But to come to the true principle, by which this question ought to be determined: the business of civil government is to protect the citizen in his rights, to defend the community from hostile powers, and to promote the general welfare. Civil government has no business to meddle with the private opinions of the people. If I demean myself as a good citizen, I am accountable, not to man, but to god, for the religious opinions which I embrace, and the manner in which I worship the Supreme Being. If such had been the universal sentiments of mankind, and they had acted accordingly, persecution, the bane of truth and nurse of error, with her bloody axe and flaming hand, would never have turned so great a part of the world into a field of blood. But while I assert the right of religious liberty; I would not deny that the civil power has a right, in some cases, to interfere in matters of religion. It has a right to prohibit and punish gross immoralities and impieties; because the open practice of these is of evil example and public detriment. For this reason, I heartily approve of our laws against drunkenness, profane swearing, blasphemy, and professed atheism. But in this state, we have never thought it expedient to adopt a test-law; and yet I sincerely believe we have as great a proportion of religion and morality, as they have in England, where every person who holds a public office, must be either a saint by law, or a hypocrite by practice. A test-law is the parent of hypocrisy, and the offspring of error and the spirit of persecution. Legislatures have no right to set up an inquisition, and examine into the private opinions of men. Test-laws are useless and ineffectual, unjust and tyrannical; therefore the convention have done wisely in excluding this engine of persecution, and providing that no religious test shall ever be required.
From Luther Martin
LUTHER MARTIN, "THE GENUINE INFORMATION" I,II,VIII,IX,XII MARYLAND GAZETTE (BALTIMORE), DECEMBER 28, 1787-FEBRUARY 8, 1788 MR. MARTIN’S INFORMATION TO THE HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY, CONCLUDED. The part of the system, which provides that no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States, was adopted by a very great majority of the convention, and without much debate, -however, there were some members so unfashionable as to think that a belief if the existence of a deity, and of a state of future rewards and punishments would be some security for the good conduct of our rulers, and that in a Christian country it would be at least decent to hold out some distinction between the professors of Christianity and downright infidelity or paganism.
From Samuel Holden
SAMUEL HOLDEN PARSONS TO WILLIAM CUSHING MIDDLETOWN, CONNECTICUT, JANUARY 11, 1788 In the new constitution, the want of power to establish religious tests is a grievance in the minds of some; in addition to the very many & conclusive arguments against religious tests - I am fully convinced of the expediency of inserting the exclusive clause lest in future time by construction such right may be supposed to exist, and under the influence of the enthusiasm which has upheld men to the greatest absurdities, we may in future hang witches or establish such tests as would disgrace human nature - but what will become of the states who refuse their assent & are in the present confederation? I answer we all broken that covenant & it is now prostrate in the dust & no state can charge another with breaking these covenants as they have by common consent dissolved it - I have to apologize for troubling you; but can any the least benefit be derived by new arguments or old ones plac’d in different lights I have a consciousness you will pardon me.
From the Reverend Daniel Shute and Colonel William Jones
THE REVEREND DANIEL SHUTE AND COLONEL WILLIAM JONES ON RELIGIOUS TESTS AND CHRISTIAN BELIEF JANUARY 31, 1788 To establish a religious test as a qualification for offices in the proposed federal constitution, appears to me, sir, would be attended with injurious consequences to some individuals, and with no advantage to the whole. By the injurious consequences to individuals, I mean, that some, who in every other respect, are qualified to fill some important post in government, will be excluded by their not being able to stand the religious tests - which I take to be a privation of part of their civil rights. Nor is there to me any conceivable advantage, sir that would result in the whole from such a test. Unprincipled and dishonest men will not hesitate to subscribe to anything, that may open the way for their advancement, and put them into a situation the better to execute their base and iniquitous designs. Honest men alone, therefore, however well qualified to serve the publik, would be excluded by it, and their country be deprived of the benefit of their abilities. In this great and extensive empire, there is and will be a great variety of sentiments in relation among its inhabitants. Upon the plan of a religious test, the question then must be, who shall be excluded from national trusts? Whatever answer bigotry may suggest, the dictates of candour and equity, I conceive, will be none. far from limiting my charity and confidence to men of my own denomination in religion, I suppose, and I believe, sir, that there are worthy characters among men of every other denomination - among the Quakers - the Baptists - the church of England - the papists - and even among those who have no other guide, in the way to virtue and heaven, than the dictates of natural religion. I must therefore think, sir, that the proposed plan of government, in this particular, is wisely constructed: that as all have an equal claim to the blessings of the government under which they live, and which they support, so none should be excluded from them for being of any particular denomination of religion. the presumption is, that the eyes of the people will be upon the faithful in the land, and from a regard to their own safety, will chuse for their rulers, men of known abilities - of known probity - of good moral characters. The apostle peter tells us, that god is no respector of persons, but in every nation he that feareth him and worketh righteousness, is acceptable to him - and I know of no reason, why men of such a character, in a community, of whatever denomination in religion, ceteris paribus, with other suitable qualifications, should not be acceptable to the people, and why they may not be employed, by them, with safety and advantage in the important offices of government. - the exclusion of a religious test in the proposed constitution, therefore, clearly appears to me, sir, to be in favour of its adoption. Colonel Jones (Bristol) thought, that the rulers ought to believe in god or Christ - and that however a test may be prostituted in England, yet he thought if our publik men were to be of those who had a good standing in the church, it would be happy for the United States - and that a person could not be a good man without being a good Christian.
From Isaac Backus
ISAAC BACKUS ON RELIGION AND THE STATE, FEBRUARY 4, 1788 Rev. Mr. Backus. Mr. President, I have said very little in this honourable convention; but I now beg leave to offer a few thoughts upon some points in the constitutions proposed to us. And I shall begin with the exclusion of any religious test. Many appear to be much concerned about it, but nothing is more evident, both in reason, and in the holy scriptures, than that religion is ever a matter between god and individuals; and therefore no man or men can impose any religious test, without invading the essential prerogatives of our lord Jesus Christ. Ministers first assumed this power under the Christian name; and then Constantine approved of the practice, when he adopted the profession of Christianity, as an engine of state-policy. And let the history of all notions be searched, from that day to this, and it will appear that the imposing of religious tests hath been the greatest engine of tyranny in the world. And I rejoice to see so many gentlemen who are now giving in the rights of conscience, in this great and important matter. Some serious minds discover a concern lest, if all religious tests should be excluded, the congress would hereafter establish popery, or some other tyrannical way of worship. But it is most certain, that no such way of worship can be established, without any religious test.
From William Williams
WILLIAM WILLIAMS TO THE PRINTER AMERICAN MERCURY (HARTFORD, CONN.), FEBRUARY 11, 1788 Mr. Babcock, Since the federal constitution has had so calm, dispassionate and rational a discussion, and so happy an issue, in the late worth convention of this state; I did not expect any members of that hon, body to be challenged in a news-paper, and especially by name, and by anonymous writers, on account of their opinion, or decently expressing their sentiments relative to the great subject then under consideration or any part of it. Nor do I yet see the propriety, or happy issue of such a proceeding. However, as a gentleman in your paper, feels uneasy, that every sentiment contained in his publications, (tho’ in general they are well written) is not received with perfect acquiescence and submission. I will endeavour to satisfy him, of the candid reader, by the same channel that I am not so reprehensible as he supposes, in the matter refer’d to. When the clause in the 6th article, which provides that "no religious test should ever be required as a qualification to any office or trust, &c" came under consideration. I observe I should have chose that sentence and any thing relating to a religious test, had been totally omitted rather than stand as it did, but still more wished something of the kind should have been inserted, but with a reverse sense, so far as to require an explicit acknowledgment of the being of a god, his perfections and his providence, and to have been prefixed to, and stand as, the first introductory words of the constitution, in the following or similar terms, viz. We the people of the United States, in a firm belief of the being and perfections of the one living and true god, the creator and supreme governour of the world, in his universal providence and the authority of his laws: that he will require of all moral agents an account of their conduct, that all rightful powers among men are ordained of, and mediately derived from god, therefore in a dependence on his blessing and acknowledgment of his efficient protection in establishing our independence, whereby it is become necessary to agree upon and settle a constitution of federal government for ourselves, and in order to form a more perfect union &c. And instead of none, that no other religious test, should ever be required &c. And that supposing, but not granting, this would be no security at all, that it would make hypocrites &c. Yet this would not be a sufficient reason against it; as it would be a public declaration against, and disapprobation of men, who did not, even with sincerity, make such a profession, and they must be left, to the searcher of hearts: that it would however, be the voice of the great body of the people, and an acknowledgment proper and highly becoming them to express on this and only occasion, and according to the course of providence, one mean of obtaining blessings from the most high. But that since it was not, and so difficult and dubious to get it inserted, I would not wish to make it a capital objection: that I had no more idea of a religious test, denomination of men or Christians, in the long list of diversity, than to regulate their bestowments, by the stature or dress of the candidate; nor did I believe one sensible catholic man in the state wished for such a limitation; and that therefore the news-paper observations, and reasonings (I named no author) against a test, in favour of any one denomination of Christians, and the sacrilegious injunctions of the test laws of England &c. Combated objections which did not exist, and was building up a man of straw and knocking him down again. These are the same and only ideas and sentiments, I endeavoured to communicate on that subject, tho’ perhaps not precisely in the same terms; as I had not written, nor preconceived them, except the proposed test, and whether there is any reason in them of not, I submit to the publik. I freely confess such a test and acknowledgment, would have given me great additional satisfaction: and I conceive the arguments against it, on the score of hypocrisy, would apply with equal force against requiring an oath, from any officer of the united or individual states; and with little abatement, to any oath in any case whatever: but divine and human wisdom, with universal experience, have approved and established them as useful, and a security to mankind. I thought it was my duty to make the observations, in this behalf, which I did, and to bear my testimony for god: and that it was also my duty to say the constitution, with this, and some other faults of another kind, was yet too wise and too necessary to be rejected. p.s. I could not have suspected, the landholder (if I know him) to be the author of the piece refer’d to; but if he or any other, is pleased to reply, without the signature of his proper name, he will receive no further answer or notice from me. Feb. 2d, 1788.
From Joseph Spencer
JOSEPH SPENCER TO JAMES MADISON, ENCLOSING JOHN LELAND’S OBJECTIONS ORANGE COUNTY, VIRGINIA, FEBRUARY 28, 1788 (PARTIAL LETTER, THE 10TH OF 10 OBJECTIONS LISTED) 10ly. What is dearest of all - religious liberty, is not sufficiently secured, no religious test is required as a qualification to fill any office under the United States, but if a majority of congress with the presedent favour one system more than another, they may oblige all others to pay to the support of their system as much as they please, & if oppression dose not ensue, it will be owing to the mildness of administration & not to any constitutional defense, & if the manners of people are so far corrupted, that they cannot live by republican principles, it is very dangerous leaving religious liberty at their mercy-
From Zachariah Johnston
ZACHARIAH JOHNSTON, "OF THE MIDDLE RANK," FAVOURS RATIFICATION WITHOUT PREVIOUS AMENDMENTS JUNE 25, 1788, (PARTIAL LETTER, 3RD PARAGRAPH OF 6 PAGE LETTER) ...............We are also told, that religion is not secured - that religious tests are not required.-you will find that the exclusion of tests, will strongly tend to establish religious freedom. If tests were required - and if the church of England of any other were established, i might be excluded from any office under the government, because my conscience might not permit me to take the test required. The diversity of opinions and variety of sects in the United States, have justly been reckoned a great security with respect to religious liberty.
From Henry Abbot and James Iredell
HENRY ABBOT AND JAMES IREDELL DEBATE THE BAN ON RELIGIOUS TESTS: COULD NOT THE POPE BE PRESIDENT? JULY 30, 1788 Mr. Henry abbot, after a short exordium which was not distinctly heard, proceeded thus - some are afraid, Mr. Chairman, that should the constitution be received, they would be deprived of the privilege of worshipping god according to their consciences, which would be taking from them a benefit they enjoy under the present constitution. They wish to know if their religious and civil liberties be secured under this system, or whether the general government may not make laws infringing their religious liberties. The worthy member from Edenton mentioned sundry political reasons why treaties should be the supreme law of the land. It is feared by some people, that by the power of making treaties, they might make a treaty engaging with foreign powers to adopt the Roman Catholic religion in the United States, which would prevent the people from worshipping god according to their own consciences. The worthy member from Halifax has in some measure satisfied my mind on this subject. But others may be dissatisfied. Many wish to know what religion shall be established. I believe a majority of the community are Presbyterians. I am for my part against any exclusive establishment. But if there were any, i would prefer the Episcopal. The exclusion of religious tests is by many thought dangerous and impolitic. They suppose that if there be no religious test required, pagans, deists and Mahometans might obtain offices among us. And that the senate and representatives might all be pagans. Every person employed by the general and state governments is to take an oath to support the former. Some are desirous to know how, and by whom they are to swear, since no religious tests are required - whether they are to swear by Jupiter, Juno, Minerva, Proserpine or Pluto. We ought to be suspicious of our liberties. We have felt the effects of oppressive measures, and know the happy consequences of being jealous of our rights. I would be glad some gentlemen would endeavour to obviate these objections, in order to satisfy the religious part of the society. Could I be convinced that the objections were well founded, I would then declare my opinion against the constitution. [Mr. Abbot added several other observations, but spoke too low to be heard.] Mr. Iredell - Mr. Chairman, nothing is more desirable than to remove the scruples of any gentleman on this interesting subject: those concerning religion are entitled to particular respect. I did not expect any objection to this particular regulation, which in my opinion, is calculated to prevent evils of the most pernicious consequences to society. Every person in the least conversant in the history of mankind, knows what dreadful mischiefs have been committed by religious persecutions. Under the colour of religious tests the utmost cruelties have been exercised. Those in power have generally considered all wisdom centered in themselves, that they alone had a right to dictate to the rest of mankind, and that all opposition to their tenets was profane and impious. The consequence of this intolerant spirit has been, that each church has in turn set itself up against every other, and persecutions and wars of the most implacable and bloody nature have taken place in every part of the world. America has set an example to mankind to think more modestly and reasonably; that a man may be of different religious sentiments from our own, without being a bad member of society. The principles of toleration, to the honour of this age, are doing away with those errors and prejudices which have so long prevailed even in the most intolerant countries. In the Roman Catholic countries, principles of moderation are adopted, which would have been spurned at a century ago. I should be sorry to find, when examples of toleration are set even by arbitrary governments, that this country, so, impressed with the highest sense of liberty, should adopt principles on this subject, that were narrow and illiberal. I consider the clause under consideration as one of the strongest proofs that could be adduced, that it was the intention of those who formed this system, to establish a general religious liberty in America. Were we to judge from the examples of religious tests in other countries, we should be persuaded that they do not answer the purpose for which they are intended. What is the consequence of such in England? In that country no man can be a member in the House of Commons, or hold any office under the crown, without taking the sacrament according to the rites of the church. This in the first instance must degrade and profane a rite, which never ought to be taken but from a sincere principle of devotion. To a man of base principles, it is made a mere instrument of civil policy. The intention was to exclude all persons from offices, but the members of the Church of England. Yet it is notorious, that dissenters qualify themselves for offices in this manner, though they never conform to the church on any other occasion; and men of no religious at all, have no scruple to make use of this qualification. It never was known that a man who had no principles of religion, hesitated to perform any rite when it was convenient for his private interest. No test can bind such a one. I am therefore clearly of opinion, that such a discrimination would neither be effectual for its own purposes, nor if it could, ought it by any means to be made. Upon the principles I have stated, I confess the restriction on the power of congress in this particular has my hearty approbation. They certainly have no authority to interfere in the establishment of any religion whatsoever, and I am astonished that any gentleman should conceive they have. Is there any power given to congress in matters of religion? Can they pass a single act to impair our religious liberties? If they could, it would be a just cause of alarm. If they could sir, no man would have more horror against it than myself. Happily no sect here is superior to another. As long as this is the case, we shall be free from those persecutions and distractions with which other countries have been torn. If any future congress should pass an act concerning the religion of the country, it would be an act which they are not authorized to pass by the constitution, and which the people would not obey. Every one would ask, "who authorized the government to pass such an act? It is not warranted by the constitution, and is a barefaced usurpation." The power to make treaties can never be supposed to include a right to establish a foreign religion among ourselves, though it might authorize a toleration of others. But it is objected, that the people of America may perhaps chuse representatives who have no religion at all, and that pagans and mahometans may be admitted into offices. But how is it possible to exclude any set of men, without taking away that principle of religious freedom which we ourselves so warmly contended for? This is the foundation on which persecution has been raised in every part of the world. The people in power were always in the right, and every body else wrong. If you admit the least difference, the door to persecution is opened. Nor would it answer the purpose, for the worst part of the excluded sects would comply with the test, and the best men only be kept out of our counsels. But it is never to be supposed that the people of America will trust their dearest rights to persons who have no religion at all, of a religion materially different from their own. It would be happy for mankind if religion was permitted to take its own course, and maintain itself by the excellence of its own doctrines. The divine author of our religion never wished for its support by worldly authority. Has he not said, that the gates of hell shall not prevail against it? It made much greater progress for itself, than when supported by the greatest authority upon earth. (section here omitted for lack of relevancy to this subject) Had congress undertaken to guarantee religious freedom, or any particular species of it, they would then have had a pretense to interfere in a subject they have nothing to do with. Each state, so far as the clause in question does not interfere, must be left to the operation of its own principles. there is a degree of jealousy which it is impossible to satisfy. Jealousy in a free government ought to be respected: but it may be carried to too great an extent. It is impracticable to guard against all possible danger of people’s chusing their officers indiscreetly. If they have a right to chuse, they may make a bad choice. I met by accident with a pamphlet this morning, in which the author states as a very serious danger, that the pope of Rome might be elected president. I confess this never struck me before, and if the author had read all the qualifications of a president, perhaps his fears might have been quieted. No man but a native, and who has resided fourteen years in America, can be chosen president. I know not all the qualifications for a pope, but i believe he must be taken from the College of Cardinals, and probably there are many previous steps necessary before he arrives at this dignity. A native of America must have very singular good fortune, who after residing fourteen years in his own country, should go to Europe, enter into romish orders, obtain the promotion of cardinal, afterwards that of pope, and at length be so much in the confidence of his own country, as to be elected president. It would be still more extraordinary if he should give up his popedom for our presidency. Sir, it is impossible to treat such idle fears with any degree of gravity. Why is it not objected, that there is no provision in the constitution against electing one of the kings of Europe president? It would be a clause equally rational and judicious. I hope that I have in some degree satisfied the doubts of the gentleman. This article is calculated to secure universal religious liberty, by putting all sects on a level, the only way to prevent persecution. I thought nobody would have objected to this clause, which deserves in my opinion the highest approbation. This country has already had the honour of setting and example of civil freedom, and I trust it will likewise have the honour of teaching the rest of the world the way to religious freedom also. God grant both may be perpetuated to the end of time.
From Rev. David Caldwell and Samuel Spencer
REV. DAVID CALDWELL AND SAMUEL SPENCER CONTINUE THE DEBATE OF RELIGIOUS TOLERATION JULY 30, 1788 Mr. Caldwell thought that some danger might arise. He imagined it might be objected to in a political as well as in a religious view. In the first place, he said there was an invitation for Jews, and Pagans of every kind, to come among us. At some future period, said he, this might endanger the character of the United States. Moreover, even those who do not regard religion, acknowledge that the Christian religion is best calculated of all religions to make good members of society, on account of its morality. I think then, added he, that in a political view, those gentlemen who formed this constitution, should not have given this invitation to Jews and heathens. All those who have any religion are against the emigration of those people from the eastern hemisphere. Mr. Spencer was an advocate for securing every unalienable right, and that of worshipping god according to the dictates of conscience in particular. He therefore thought that no one particular religion should be established. Religious tests, said he, have been the foundation of persecutions in all countries. Persons who are conscientious will not take the oath required by religious tests, and will therefore be excluded from offices, though equally capable of discharging them as any member of the society. It is feared, continued he, that persons of bad principles, deists, atheists, &c. May come into this country, and there is nothing to restrain them from being eligible to offices. He asked if it was reasonable to suppose that the people would chuse men without regarding their characters. Mr. Spencer then continued thus - gentlemen urge that the want of a test admits the most vicious characters to offices. I desire to know what test could bind them. If they were of such principles, it would not keep them from enjoying those offices. On the other hand, it would exclude from offices conscientious and truly religious people, though equally capable as others. Conscientious persons would not take such an oath, and would be therefore excluded. This would be a great cause of objection to a religious test. But in this case as there is not a religious test required, it leaves religion on the solid foundation of its own inherent validity, without any connection with temporal authority, and no kind of oppression can take place. I confess it strikes me so. I am sorry to differ from the worthy gentleman. I cannot object to this part of the constitution. I wish every other part was as good and proper.
From Benjamin Franklin
EXTRACTED FROM THE WRITINGS OF BENJAMIN FRANKLIN RELIGIOUS TESTS TO RICHARD PRICE Dear Sir, Passy, Oct. 9, 1780. Besides the pleasure of their company, I had the great satisfaction of hearing by your two valuable friends, and learning from your letter, that you enjoy a good state of health. May god continue it, as well for the good of mankind as for your comfort. I thank you much for the second edition of your excellent pamphlet. I forwarded that you sent to Mr. Dana, he being in Holland. I wish also to see the piece you have written (as Mr. Jones tells me) on toleration. I do not expect that your new parliament will be either wiser or honester than the last. All projects to procure an honest one, by place bills, &c., appear to me vain and impracticable. The true cure, I imagine, is to be found only in rendering all places unprofitable, and the king too poor to give bribes and pensions. Till this is done, which can only be by a revolution (and I think you have not virtue enough left to procure one), your nation will always be plundered, and obliged to pay by taxes the plunderers for plundering and ruining. Liberty and virtue therefore join in the call, come out of her, my people! I am fully of your opinion respecting religious tests; but, tho’ the people of Massachusetts have not in their new constitution kept quite clear of them, yet, if we consider what that people were 100 years ago, we must allow they have gone great lengths in liberality of sentiment on religious subjects; and we may hope for greater degrees of perfection, when their constitution, some years hence, shall be revised. If Christian preachers had continued to teach as Christ and his apostles did, without salaries, and as the Quakers now do, I imagine tests would never have existed; for I think they were invented, not so much to secure religion itself, as the emoluments of it. When a religion is good, I conceive that it will support itself; and, when it cannot support itself, and god does not take care to support, so that its professors are oblig’d to call for the help of the civil power, it is a sign, I apprehend, of its being a bad one. But I shall be out of my depth, if I wade any deeper in theology, and I will not trouble you with politicks, not with news which are almost as uncertain; but conclude with a heartfelt wish to embrace you once more, and enjoy your sweet society in peace, among our honest, worthy, ingenious friends at the London. Adieu,
From James Madison
If it had been left up to New England Puritans and Congregationalists, there WOULD be religious tests for office as Madison comments on this very fact in the following clause:
“one of the objections in New England was that the Constitution by prohibiting religious tests opened a door for Jews, Turks and infidels”.
Jefferson's Bill of Religious Liberty, 1779
From Jefferson's work in the "Virginia Bill of Religious Liberty 1779", (a document totally ignored and forgotten by the religious community in the United States for over 230 years) the very document that defines what is proper and what is not proper regarding church and State we have this clause:
And therefore the proscribing any citizen as unworthy the public confidence by laying upon him an incapacity of being called to offices of trust or emolument unless he profess or renounce this or that religious opinion is depriving him injudiciously of those privileges and advantages to which in common with his fellow citizens, he has a natural right; That it tends to corrupt the principles of that very religion it is meant to encourage, by proscribing with a monopoly of worldly honors and emoluments those who will externally profess and conform to it;