Religious Tests 3

In answering the two questions presented in this week’s forum, first, I believe Public officials should not be required to take public oaths in which they are required to declare belief in God.  Article VI of the U.S. Constitution is explicit in barring a requisite declaration of belief in a God when it states: “but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” [1] Article VI is also applicable to the question in Torcaso which was whether Article 37 of the Declaration of Rights of the Maryland Constitution violated the U.S. Constitution when it established a requirement (religious test) of a declaration of belief in the existence of God in order for a person to hold any office of profit or trust in the State of Maryland. [2] To answer that question, the Court was guided by precedent in numerous cases. For instance, the Court cited Girouard, which stated: “[t]he test oath is abhorrent to our tradition." The statement in Girouard reflects the sentiment of the founders of this country in that they experienced the negative effects resulting from state sanctioned religious preferences. [3] The Torcaso Court also cited Cantwell which described the applicability of the First and Fourteenth Amendments to a required religious test.  Cantwell, rationalized that while the First Amendment guaranteed a right for state actors to believe a religious test was appropriate, [5] the Fourteenth Amendment stood to ban those actors from taking action to legislate such a test. [6] Because of these facts, along with other precedent case law to rely on in Torcaso, those in opposition of the religious test are able to provide a strong argument.

Conversely, while the State could argue that the religious-test-hands-off-approach held by the Court in Everson was countermanded by an opinion in Zorach, [7] [8] that argument is not likely to survive since the Court in Zorach specifically stated that they followed the McCollum case which supported the hands-off-approach. [9]

Secondly, I agree that people should be required to swear an oath (without any religious connotations). I believe that in theory, the oath is something that explicitly states in detail what duties and responsibilities a person is about to undertake and that the oath makes it clear that the person understands those responsibilities. The oath also serves to affirm that one intends to fulfill his obligation. However, all too often we observe public servants who take an oath and fail to honor the oath.

[1] U.S. Const. art. VI, § 2.

[2] Torcaso v. Watkins, 367 U.S. 488 (1961).

[3] Girouard v. United States, 328 U.S. 61, 66 S. Ct. 826, 90 L. Ed. 1084 (1946).

[4] Cantwell v. Connecticut, 310 U.S. 296, 60 S. Ct. 900, 84 L. Ed. 1213 (1940).

[5] U.S. Const. amend. I.

[6] U.S. Const. amend. XIV.

[7] Everson v. Board of Ed. of Ewing, 330 U.S. 1, 67 S. Ct. 504, 91 L. Ed. 711 (1947).

[8] Zorach v. Clauson, 343 U.S. 306, 72 S. Ct. 679, 96 L. Ed. 954 (1952).

[9] Illinois ex rel. McCollum v. Board of Ed. of School Dist. No. 71, Champaign Cty., 333 U.S. 203, 68 S. Ct. 461, 92 L. Ed. 649 (1948).


Scroll to Top