What is the “No Religious Test” Clause of the Constitution and Why is it Important?

Feb 7, 2021

Religious liberty is something we take for granted as Americans. Not so long ago I sat in St. Mary’s Cathedral in Aberdeen, Scotland and contemplated the importance of religious liberty to me. I imagined sitting in the cathedral at a time when Catholics were persecuted under Protestant kings, and I also reflected upon a time when Protestants were persecuted under Catholic kings. I thought about my dear friends, both Catholic and non-Catholic alike, who could have been persecuted for being born in a time when their religion differed from the established Church of the nation. Contemplating religion while in a foreign country really brought home how religious freedom is taken for granted in this country and how, even today, religious persecution is still very rampant in our world.

 

The Founding Fathers knew religious persecution quite well. True liberty was the driving force behind the establishment of our government. In addition to First Amendment protections for religious liberty, the Founders incorporated what we refer to as the “No Religious Clause” test into the Constitution. Article VI Clause 3 states, “The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; no religious test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” Article VI Clause 3. 

 

At the time the prohibition was written, states were free to require religious tests for holding office; the prohibition applied only to the national government. The Founding Fathers intended that qualification for holding office was to exist on merit and not on belief. The Founders were opposed to the establishment of a national church, such as the Church of England. Prohibiting the use of religious tests for holding national office would assist in the prevention of establishing a national church in the United States. 

 

The “No Religious Test” Clause protects religious freedom in that it prevents discrimination against any one religion. In recent years, the First Amendment has somewhat obscured the “No Religious Test” Clause as cases discriminating against any one religion are argued and decided based upon the protection of religious liberties within the Amendment itself. The First Amendment has dimmed the application of the “No Religious Test” Clause and as such, little case law exists with respect to the Clause.

 

Does this mean that we, as Christians, violate the Constitution if we consider a candidate’s religious (or non-religious) views when we cast our ballots? Absolutely not! The prohibition applies only to governmental action. As Christians we have a much higher moral and religious obligation and duty to God to consider the religious implications of our vote. As Christian Americans we must ask ourselves whether the actions and platform of any particular candidate align with the teachings of Christ before we cast that ballot.

 

  1. “Article VI Section 3: Constitution Annotated: Congress.gov: Library of Congress.” Constitution Annotated, constitution.congress.gov/browse/article-6/clause-3/. 
  2.  Brownstein, Alan E., and Jud Campbell. “The No Religious Test Clause.” Interpretation: The No Religious Test Clause | The National Constitution Center, 2020, constitutioncenter.org/interactive-constitution/interpretation/article-vi/clauses/32. 

Ann LeBlanc has been practicing law since 1994. She has been an adjunct professor of Business Law, authored legal publications, and presented materials on legal topics of interest to colleagues earning continuing education credits. Ann and her husband live in Texas where they homeschool their own two children and are actively involved in their church community. Ann enjoys Doctor Who, Sherlock, all things Star Trek, Marvel movies, eclectic music, awesome books, contemplative discussions, and dance.

The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the author and should not be taken to represent the views of Excelsior Classes, LLC or the consortium of teachers.