The liberty principle for this Freedom Friday concerns the right of religious believers to be part of public life in the United States. Article VI of the U.S. Constitution declares that “…no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” This means that religious orthodoxy should never be considered when citizens are being evaluated for their fitness to serve in high offices of our nation.
Gerard V. Bradley, a Professor of Law at Notre Dame Law School, penned a chapter on the “no religious test” clause in The Heritage Guide to the Constitution. He wrote the following.
The original, unamended Constitution contains one explicit reference to religion: the Article VI ban on religious tests for “any office or public trust under the United States.” Despite much litigation over the constitutional border between church and state, there have been no judicial decisions involving the religious test ban. The clause has been entirely self-executing. We do not know whether the Framers intended the clause to apply to every federal officeholder, howsoever minor; but no federal official has ever been subjected to a formal religious tests for holding office.
By its plain terms, the ban extended only to federal officeholders. States were free at the time of the Founding to impose religious tests as they saw fit. All of them did. State tests limited public offices to Christians or, in some states, only to Protestants. The national government, on the other hand, could not impose any religious test whatsoever. National offices were open to everyone.
The surviving accounts of the Constitutional Convention indicate that the Article VI ban “was adopted by a great majority of the convention, and without much debate….
Bradley states that “there have been no judicial decisions involving the religious test ban.” This statement was true when the book was published, but it is no longer true as shown in the following statement made by Senator Jeff Flake (R-Arizona) in a post at The Daily Signal.
During this Congress there have been a number of cases when my friends in the minority have seemed to ask nominees about their substantive religious beliefs. I find this particularly troublesome because, as a Mormon, I am a member of a faith that, while it is growing rapidly, still counts fewer adherents than many other religions.
It is religious liberty – espoused in constitutional provisions like Article Six and the First Amendment – that has allowed my faith, despite a difficult history, to flourish in the United States.
And it is religious liberty that is threatened when we seem to evaluate the fitness of nominees for high office on religious orthodoxy.
As citizens of the United States of America we are free to worship how, where or what we choose. Article VI of the Constitution tells us that there are to be no religious tests to hold federal office. There should be no questions asked about religious affiliation, but there should be plenty of questions about qualifications, training, education, and ability to do the job. If religious persons are weeded out from federal offices, it would leave only people without morals running the nation.