The 1787 Constitutional Convention – No Religious Test

August 30, 1787 (Click to read Madison’s notes on the day)


The delegates continued to fine-tune the report of the Detail Committee. They decided to permit new states on equal terms with existing states and prohibited the alteration of states without consent of state legislatures. They voted to include a guarantee of a Republican form of government. The delegates, with little discussion, included the no religious test clause.

Influences on the Delegates

There were no obvious influences on the discussions but a monumental clause was passed.
Article 20 was then taken up. The words “or affirmation,” were added, after “oath.”

Mr. PINCKNEY moved to add to the Article: “but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the authority of the United States.”
Mr. SHERMAN thought it unnecessary, the prevailing liberality being a sufficient security against such tests.
Mr. GOUVERNEUR MORRIS and General PINCKNEY approved the motion.
The motion was agreed to, nem. con., and then the whole article, — North Carolina only, no; and Maryland, divided.

To Article 20, was added the “no religious test” clause. Even though Roger Sherman thought the clause was not needed due to the “prevailing liberality,” the delegate unanimously added it to Article 20.

Article XX.
The members of the Legislatures, and the Executive and Judicial officers of the United States, and of the several States, shall be bound by oath to support this Constitution.

Sherman was never more wrong. As liberal as that period in history was, it took many years for the states to eliminate those tests. However, Pinckney’s motion led the way.
I have visited this issue before. In the North Carolina convention to ratify the Constitution, the matter came up. The interpretation of the clause prevented religious bigotry and the mixture of church and state.

1787 Constitutional Convention Series

To read my series examining the proceedings of the Constitution Convention, click here.  In this series, I am writing about any obvious influences on the development of the Constitution which were mentioned by the delegates to the Convention. Specifically, I am testing David Barton’s claim that “every clause” of the Constitution is based on biblical principles. Thus far, I have found nothing supporting the claim. However, stay tuned, the series will run until mid-September.
Constitutional Convention Series (click the link)
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