In 1787, every person who signed the Constitution believed
that an “oath” was inherently, intrinsically religious.
Every “oath” is an
act of religious worship. The civil Oath of Office is a promise to God, in the presence of God,
pledging loyalty to the civil magistrate or constitution, and
invoking the judgment
of God for failure to perform as promised.
test" is not the same as an oath of office, but
is a promise of fidelity to a particular church, denomination or
body” (as Madison often phrased it). It is usually
enforced by fines
or other acts of
violence by the State.
The background of the condemnation of
any "religious test" in Article VI of the Constitution
is to be found here:
The Test Acts were a series of English penal laws
that served as a religious test for public office and imposed
various civil disabilities on Roman Catholics and
Nonconformists [Protestants dissenting against the Church of
In the American colonies, Roman Catholics were not permitted
to hold public office, but this was not for religious
reasons, as much as for political reasons. While Calvinists
were Republicans, Catholics were monarchists,
and thus perceived as a potential threat to America's Republican
form of government. (See "America
is a Protestant Nation.") They were not excluded from
office because of their views on transubstantiation.
Story wrote an influential commentary on the U.S.
Constitution. President James Madison nominated Story to the
Supreme Court of the United States. At the age of thirty-two,
Story was the youngest person ever appointed to the Supreme
6, Clause 3: Joseph Story, Commentaries on the Constitution
- § 1842. And again [quoting Mr. Justice Blackstone]:
"As to papists, what has been said of the protestant
dissenters would hold equally strong for a general
toleration of them; provided their separation was founded
only upon difference of opinion in religion, and their
principles did not also extend to a subversion of the civil
government. If once they could be brought to renounce the
supremacy of the pope, they might quietly enjoy their seven
sacraments, their purgatory, and auricular confession; their
worship of reliques and images; nay even their
transubstantiation. But while they acknowledge a foreign
power, superior to the sovereignty of the kingdom, they
cannot complain, if the laws of that kingdom will not treat
them upon the footing of good subjects."
Story goes on to quote Blackstone's reference to The
"Test Acts" in England:
In order the better to secure the established church against
perils from nonconformists of all denominations, infidels,
Turks, Jews, heretics, papists, and sectaries, there are,
however, two bulwarks erected, called the corporation and
test-acts. By the former of which [Corporation Act], no person
can be legally elected to any office relating to the
government of any city or corporation, unless, within a
twelvemonth before, he has received the sacrament of the
Lord's supper according to the rights of the church of
England; and he is also enjoined to take the oaths of
allegiance and supremacy, at the same time, that he takes the
oath of office; or, in default of either of these requisites,
such election shall be void. The other, called the test-act,
directs all officers, civil and military, to take the oaths,
and make the declaration against transubstantiation, in any of
the king's courts at Westminster, or at the quarter sessions,
within six calendar months after their admission; and also
within the same time to receive the sacrament of the Lord's
supper, according to the usage of the church of England, in
some public church immediately after divine service and
sermon; and to deliver into court a certificate thereof signed
by the minister and church-warden, and also to prove the same
by two credible witnesses, upon forfeiture of 500l, and
disability to hold the said office. And of much the same
nature with these is the statute 7 Jac. I. c. 2., which
permits no persons to be naturalized, or restored in blood,
but such as undergo a like test; which test, having been
removed in 1753, in favour of the Jews, was the next session
of parliament restored again with some precipitation."
It is easy to foresee, that without some prohibition of
religious tests, a successful sect, in our country, might, by
once possessing [civil] power, pass test-laws, which would
secure to themselves a monopoly of all the offices of trust
and profit, under the national government.
A "Religious Test" was thus a sectarian or
test. This can be seen in the ratifying
Every oath is religious, and an act of
worship, but not every oath is a "Religious Test."
The U.S. Constitution does not prohibit religious oaths.
Atheists should not be coerced to participate in any religious
worship, but they should still be barred
from exercising the machinery of coercion (public office)
under Article VI. Only
those who can faithfully take a religious oath should be
permitted to hold public office.
A Conversation on "Sectarianism"
Our government was based on religion
and morality. The teaching of piety
and virtue was foremost in the minds of the men who
wrote our Constitution. John Adams said "Our constitution
was made only for a moral
and religious people." The men who wrote
the Bill of Rights believed that the purpose of public
schools was to teach "religion, morality and
knowledge," because religion was "necessary to good
government and the happiness of mankind." Read
about this law.
The textbooks which were
universally used in those days, such as the New England Primer
and the McGuffey Readers, were explicitly Christian. After the
Constitution was ratified, no one believed that Christianity had
to be removed from these and other school texts. Read
about these books.
Bible was an essential part of American education,
both before and after the Constitution was written. Even
secularists admitted this, at least before
the Supreme Court engaged in its famous judicial activism in the
Horace Mann, often criticized by the
Religious Right, never thought about removing religion -- or
even the Bible -- from public schools.
The modern idea of
removing religion from public schools is
completely contrary to the original intent
of the Founding Fathers.
Subject: "Nonsectarian" but still very religious
Date: 04 Jan 1998 03:24:02 EST
article <19971231235201.SAA04312@ladder01.news.aol.com>, firstname.lastname@example.org
said: >> Horace Mann's schools were explicitly religious.
But they were
> non-sectarian. Christian but
non-sectarian. You can't understand the First
if you can't make that distinction.<<<
And you don't understand
either Horace Mann or the First Amendment if you think that the
> endorses Christianity, in schools or in any
other form. That's just not
cite an authority or anything like that. The presence of
evidence and stuff like that might distract readers from the
argument you're making.
What I know about Horace Mann I
learned from a past president of the Columbia Teacher's College,
a widely recognized authority on the history of education in
America, Lawrence Cremin.
The dominance of the New England
Primer in the 1700's and the McGuffey
Readers in the 1800's, shows that Education was Christian
and Biblical throughout this period. The Constitution and the
First Amendment were never understood to prohibit state and
local governments from encouraging the teaching of religion in
Even Horace Mann, severely criticized by many
Christians, did not attempt to remove religion from the schools.
It was not until the 20th century that religion was stripped
from schools, and this was a sociological phenomenon, not a
legally-mandated one. The legal "mandate" was not
invented until the early 1960's.
saying that your statement that all the states taught religion
> absolutely untrue. Politely I've given a few examples
and asked you to
> document your assertion. That is in
lieu of accusing you of a Ninth
> Commandment violation.
But then, since you don't hold to organized religion,
should we expect you to try to hold to the commandments?
If you do hold to
> the commandments, at least tell us
what source has led you astray on the
> teaching of
religion in the public schools. It is not done, it has never
been done on any substantial scale. If you have evidence
otherwise, now is
> the time to present it.
& Cremin, A History of Education in American Culture,
Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1953, pp. 272ff.:
"The attempt to build a nonsectarian common
In order for the ideal of a
universally available, publicly supported, and publicly
controlled common school to be at all workable, the teaching
of sectarian religion had to be excluded from the classroom.
[KC Note: this does not mean excluding all Christianity, just
the denominational distinctives:] In their attempts to
accomplish this by teaching the common elements of
Christianity and the Bible without comment, however, the
reformers encountered violent opposition from conservative
religious interests and the forces allied with them. The idea
that morality and character -- for many the central purposes
of education -- could be included in the curriculum apart from
the dogma of a sectarian faith was a difficult one for people
who had recently lived under religious establishments to
accept. Yet the reformers were able, in the space of a half
century, to convince a majority of Americans that the plan was
"The development of the nonsectarian curriculum in
Massachusetts well represents the movement throughout the
Union. Interestingly enough, while the general law of 1789 had
enjoined teacher to exert their best endeavors to communicate
piety, justice, and other virtues to children, it nowhere
mentioned the teaching of religion. Although the popularity of
the New England Primer had begun to wane in favor of newer
material, the Bible and the Psalter were in wide use, and the
law of 1789 probably represented a more general trend
replacing earlier Calvinist teachings with a milder conception
of Judeo-Christian ethics and morality. Far from excluding
religion, the law merely required the teaching of Christian
principles to a Christian community.
"When the law
of 1827 greatly strengthened the town school committees, the
question of sectarian feeling in the selection of school books
received important attention. In order to prevent undue
sectarian interest in this matter, the following clause was
inserted in the law: "That said committee shall never
direct any school books to be purchased or used, in any of the
schools under their superintendence, which are calculated to
favor any particular sect or tenet." Once again, rather
than excluding Christian morality from the schools, this
provision obviously hoped to bar only sectarian doctrines and
"No particular attention was paid to this
provision until the establishment of the Board of Education in
1837 and the appointment of Horace Mann, a Unitarian, as its
secretary. When Mann and the board vigorously supported the
common elements of Christianity conception, the more
conservative religious groups in the state accused him of
trying to introduce Unitarianism into the schools. [note: in
the early 1800's, Unitarianism looked more like contemporary
evangelicalism, but was clearly a departure from Puritan
Calvinism.] In 1838, in a controversy over school libraries
with Frederick A. Packard of the American Sunday School Union
[which published public school textbooks, not just "sunday
school" texts --kc], and again in 1844 and 1846, in
controversies with Reverends Edward A. Newton and Matthew Hale
Smith, respectively, Mann and the board were accused of
conducting "godless," immoral
schools which bred
delinquency and vice. Throughout these continuing struggles,
Mann held steadfastly to his position that the common schools
were neither irreligious nor nonreligious; they were
nonsectarian. If one examines the curriculum of these years,
Mann's arguments were entirely borne out in practice, at least
to the extent that moral instruction was non-sectarian
Protestant in orientation. Very obviously, what his attackers
were urging was not that religion, ethics, and morals be
taught in the schools, but that their particular sectarian
doctrines be taught.
"By the time of the Civil War,
Mann's position enjoyed wide acceptance in most places, and
universal acceptance in others. A questionnaire sent to twelve
leading citizens of Massachusetts in 1851 revealed general
concurrence in the conclusion that the New England system of
education, while nonsectarian, was far from irreligious. Had
America been entirely Protestant, there seems little doubt
that well nigh universal acceptance of this policy might have
been achieved by 1865. But this was not the case, and after
1840, their ranks strengthened by the mass immigrations of the
1840's and 1850's, the Roman Catholics raised growing
objections. Pointing to the fact that the Protestant version
of the Bible was read in schools and that this Bible, contrary
to Catholic doctrine, was read without comment or
interpretation, this group continued to view the public
schools as sectarian. In some places temporary compromises
were achieved; in others Protestants refused to heed these
complaints; and in still others separate Catholic schools
systems were established. Suffice it to say that before 1865
the Protestants had no adequate solution to the problem."
If I am able, I will quote Princeton
Calvinist A.A. Hodge who railed against the Catholics for
fighting Protestants over the King James Bible when they should
have joined the Protestants in fighting against the secularists.
Again, I blame ecclesiastical denominations for most of today's
But the point is inescapable. The Bible was
taught in public schools long after the Constitution was
ratified. Even while Horace Mann was active, the New England
Primer was still being used:
That Cotton Mather's injunctions were not simply the
ravings of a [fanatic] minister is attested by the whole
content and spirit of the New England Primer which was the
most widely read school book in America for 100 years. The
best estimate is made that some 3,000,000 copies were sold
from 1700 to 1850.
Butts & Cremin, p.69
No one believed this to be
unconstitutional (except a few wiggy and blasphemous prototypes
of the ACLU, who were always ruled against in court).
Date: 18 Dec 1998 12:41:00 EST
has posted nothing that suggests that the "theistic
spirit" of the
> Declaration is opposed to religious
No, the theistic spirit was NOT opposed to
freedom for Christians of every sect. I've never said it was.
nor that it was designed to
exclude any believer of any faith, nor any disbeliever of any
Name one person (besides Franklin or
Jefferson [maybe]) who signed the Declaration who believed that
atheists should be allowed to hold office or testify in court --
and quote him to that effect. I will promptly cite the rest of
the signers, and will quote the constitutions they drafted which
"theistic spirit" was clearly a civil spirit, not a
sectarian religious one.
I am against sectarianism,
i.e., the preference by law of one Christian sect over another.
Samuel Johnston affirmed this during No.Carolina's ratifying
I know of but two or three states where there is the least
chance of establishing any particular religion.
The people of Massachusetts and Connecticut are mostly
Presbyterians. In every other state, the people are divided
into a great number of sects. In Rhode island,
the tenets of the Baptists, I believe, prevail. In New York,
they are divided very much: the most numerous are the
Episcopalians and the Baptists. In New Jersey, they are as
much divided as we are. In Pennsylvania, if any sect
prevails more than others, it is that of the Quakers. In
Maryland, the Episcopalians are most numerous, though there
are other sects. In Virginia, there are many sects;
you all know what their religious sentiments
are. So in all the Southern States they differ; as also in New
Hampshire. I hope, therefore, that gentlemen will see there is
no cause of fear that any one religion shall be
Notice how the word "religion" is used. It is a
mistake to impose our ignorance on the Founders. They used words
with a specific meaning, which we may not understand 200 years
later. Also speaking to the First Amendment in the same
convention, Mr. Iredell:
[Congress] certainly [has] no authority to interfere in the
establishment of any religion whatsoever; and I
am astonished that any gentleman should conceive they have. .
. . Happily no sect here is superior to another.
. . .
This article is calculated to secure universal religious
liberty, by putting all sects on a level.
As Story wrote specifically regarding the purposes of Article
It is easy to foresee, that without some prohibition of
religious tests, a successful sect, in our country, might, by
once possessing power, pass test-laws, which would secure to
themselves a monopoly of all the offices of trust and profit,
under the national government.
(20) Jonathan Elliot, ed., The Debates in the Several
State Conventions on the Adoption of the Federal Constitution,
Washington: Printed for the Editor, 1836, vol. IV, p. 199.
(21) Ibid., p. 194. Emphasis
(22) Joseph Story, Commentaries on the
Constitution of the United States, Abridged Boston: Hilliar,
Gray & Co., 1833, p. 690.
I join the Founding Fathers
in defending a non-sectarian Christocracy.
I have been alternately called an aristocrat and a
democrat. I am now neither. I am a Christocrat. I believe all
power. . . will always fail of producing order and happiness
in the hands of man. He alone Who created and redeemed man is
qualified to govern him.
-- Benjamin Rush