Missouri's 7th District, U.S. House of Representatives




Liberty Under God
Religious Tests

Congress should
  • not confuse an oath, which is an act of religious worship, with a religious "test."

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.

A "religious test" is not the same as an oath of office, but is a promise of fidelity to a particular church, denomination or “ecclesiastical 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 England].

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.

Joseph 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 Court.

Article 6, Clause 3: Joseph Story, Commentaries on the Constitution 3:§§ 1838-43

§ 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."

Story concludes:

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 denominational Christian test. This can be seen in the ratifying debates.

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.

I know of no evidence that the option to "affirm" (rather than "swear") was designed for atheists, while there is abundant evidence that it was designed for religious folks with religious scruples against taking oaths, e.g., Quakers and Mennonites. Atheists were not trusted with the reigns of power as "ministers of God."

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.

The 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 early 1960's.

Even 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

In article <>, (EDarr1776) writes:

> Kevin said: >> Horace Mann's schools were explicitly religious. But they were
> non-sectarian. Christian but non-sectarian. You can't understand the First
> Amendment if you can't make that distinction.<<<

> And you don't understand
> either Horace Mann or the First Amendment if you think that the Constitution
> endorses Christianity, in schools or in any other form. That's just not
> so.

Well don't 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 all schools.

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.

In article <>, (EDarr1776) writes:

> I'm saying that your statement that all the states taught religion is
> 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.

Here we go:

Butts & Cremin, A History of Education in American Culture, Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1953, pp. 272ff.:

"The attempt to build a nonsectarian common school curriculum.
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 practical.

"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 tenets.

"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 problems.

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).

Subject: "Sectarianism"
Date: 18 Dec 1998 12:41:00 EST

In article <>, (EDarr1776) writes:

> Kevin has posted nothing that suggests that the "theistic spirit" of the
> Declaration is opposed to religious freedom,

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 faith.

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 excluded atheists.

> The
> "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.

Gov Samuel Johnston affirmed this during No.Carolina's ratifying convention:

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 exclusively established.[20]

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.[21]

As Story wrote specifically regarding the purposes of Article VI:

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.[22]

(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. Emphasis added.

(21) Ibid., p. 194. Emphasis added.

(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

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