Religious Tests – Torcaso v. Watkins

Rodney and Kamal, thanks for the great posts. I’d like to add that because the U.S. Constitution is the law of the land that bars the institution of a religious test as a prerequisite for qualification to hold any office or public trust under the United States, we must first look to define the meaning of a religious test from the Federal Government’s perspective. [1] The opinion in Torcaso is such that the Court defined the Maryland Declaration of Rights requirement to be an effective religious test in that the requirement was designed to effectively inhibit every person who refused to declare a belief in God from holding a public "office of profit or trust" in Maryland. [2] From this we extrapolate the rule that: any requirement imposed by a state requiring a person to declare a belief in a God in order to hold public "office of profit or trust," in any state, is classified as a religious test and thereby violates Article VI of the U.S. Constitution.

Because of this rule, we give rise to two questions. (1) Whether certain circumstances (exceptions) exists where a State can employ a religious test without violating Article VI? and (2) Whether the imposition of a religious test by a State falls under strict liability, where the intent of the State is not an issue, but the only consideration is simply whether or not the State imposed the religious test. In answering both questions, we look back to the supremacy clause and to the issue of State Sovereignty where find no exceptions giving rise to a State’s ability to lawfully violate the U.S. Constitution. Because of this, it is likely that State action deemed to be an imposition of a religious test would not survive a constitutional challenge pursuant to Article VI of the U.S. Constitution.

[1] U.S. Const. art. VI, cl. 2.

[2] Torcaso v. Watkins, 367 U.S. 489 - 490 (1961).

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