The Constitutional Principle: Separation of Church and State
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Article VI, Section III

The No Religious Test Ban Clause (Separation clause)
Part III

The historical record continued: The Pennsylvania State Ratifying Convention

Researched and edited by Jim Allison

DECEMBER 3, 1787


BENJAMIN RUSH. (on the subject of the new government tending to abridge the states of their respective sovereignty) observed in the Convention, that this passion for separate sovereignty had destroyed the Grecian union. This plurality of sovereignty is in politics what plurality of gods is in religion--it is the idolatry. the heathenism of government. In marking the advantages which are secured to us by the new government, the Doctor principally enforced the following: that citizens under it will have an immediate voice in delegations to Congress; that an unoffending posterity will not (as is now the case on commission of treason) be punished for the sins of offending ancestors; that an eternal veto will be stamped on paper emissions; that religious tests would be abolished; that commerce will hold up her declining head under the influence of general, vigorous, uniform regulations; that a system of infinite mischief to this state would be counteracted; that the adopted certificates would devolve back to the continent. The Doctor concluded an animated speech by holding out the new Constitution as pregnant with an increase of. freedom, knowledge, and religion. [Pennsylvania Packet, 5 December]

Rush: We sit here as representatives of the people-we were not appointed by the legislature.

A passion for state sovereignty dissolved the union of Greece. Britain-France-enjoyed more advantages united than separate. A plurality of sovereigns is political idolatry. The sovereignty of Pennsylvania is ceded to United States.

(1) I have now a vote for members of Congress;

(2) I am a citizen of every state;

(3) I have more security for my property; the weakness of Pennsylvania in the Wyoming business; the insurgents are Antifederal;

(4) no corruption of blood or forfeiture except...;

(5) no paper money or tender laws;

(6) no religious test;

(7) commerce-its influence on agriculture;

(8) shipbuilding; iron mines;

(9) hemp;

(10) produce to load our vessels built--one only exists in the Southern--the other only in the Eastern States;

(11) the communication of the Mississippi with the Atlantic will be opened under the new Constitution. The members in Virginia from Kentucky are enthusiasts for this system.

Source of Information:

Newspaper report of the proceedings and debates of the Penna constitutional ratifying convention. November 24, 1787. The Documentary History of the Ratification of the Constitution, Vol. II Ratification of the Constitution by the States, Pennsylvania, Edited by Merrill Jensen, Madison State Historical Society of Wis, 1976, pp 457-458.

DECEMBER 17, 1787

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 unfavorable to religion. But, my countrymen, the sole 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 the 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; or, 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 law, and that all who differed in their religious opinions must suffer tile 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 or 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 his reign that a religious test was established as qualification for office; that is, a law was made requiring all officers civil and military (among other things) to receive the Sacrament of die Lord's Supper. according to the usage of the Church of England, written [within] six months after their admission to office, under the penalty of 500 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 twelve month 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 church men 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 unfavorable 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, relating 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 inadmissible to a public office. A test in favor of any one denomination of Christians would be to the last degree absurd in the United States, If it were in favor 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 or freemen. There needs no argument to prove that the majority or our citizens would never submit to this indignity.

If any test act were to be made, perhaps thee 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 favor of such a test, it may be said that one who believed 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 believes neither the Word nor the being of a God, and to be governed merely by selfish motives, how easy is it 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 to 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 an 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 to 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 cobweb-barriers as test laws are. But to come to the true principle by which this question ought to be determined: The business o 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 stale, 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 tire 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 testshall ever be required.

Source of Information:

This essay was written by A Landholder VII (Oliver Ellsworth) and published in the American Mercury and the Connecticut Courant, December 17, 1787 and reprinted two more times, in Connecticut by 28 December 1787. The Documentary History of the Ratification of the Constitution, Vol. III, Ratification of the Constitution by the States, Delaware, New Jersey, Georgia, Connecticut, Edited by Merrill Jensen, Madison, State Historical Society of Wisconsin 1978, pp 497-501.


An anti-constitutional article written for the New York Daily Advertiser that same January and widely reprinted within days in Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts papers pulled no punches about the social repercussions of Article 6. No religious tests admitted to national lawmaking: "Ist. Quakers, who will make the blacks saucy, and at the same time deprive us of the means of defence--2dly. Mahometans, who ridicule the doctrine of the Trinity--3dly. Deists, abominable wretches--4thly. Negroes, the seed of Cain--Sthly. Beggars, who when set on horse back will ride to the devil--6thly. Jews etc. etc." Not quite finished with the last, the newspaper writer feared that since the Constitution stupidly gave command of the whole militia to the president, "should he hereafter be a Jew, our dear posterity may be ordered to rebuild Jerusalem."

Source of Information:

The Godless Constitution, The Case Against Religious Correctness. By Isaac Kramnick and R. Laurence Moore. W. W. Norton & Company New York/London.(1996) pp 33


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 great majority of the convention, and without much debate.--however. there were some members so unfashionable as to think that a belief of 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 he at least decent to hold out some distinction between the professors of Christianity and downright infidelity or paganism.

Source of Information:

An address of the Maryland Legislature, relative to the General Convention recently held in Philadelphia, by Luther Martin, Esquire. Address given early 1788, probably in January. published in The Complete Anti-Federalist, Vol. II, edited by Herbert J Storing, The University Of Chicago Press. 1981, (sec 2.4.108) pp 75.

JANUARY 3, 1788

In Charleston, South Carolina, a writer in the City Gazette warned on January 3, 1788, that "as there will be noreligious test," the Quakers "will have weight, in proportion to their numbers, in the great scale of continental government."

Source of Information:

The Godless Constitution, The Case Against Religious Correctness. By Isaac Kramnick and R. Laurence Moore. W. W. Norton & Company New York/London.(1996) p 33.

Continue to Part IV: The Connecticut State Ratifying Convention

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