Church and State in the Modern Age: A Documentary History

By J. F. MacLear | Go to book overview

be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.

III. And though we well know that this assembly elected by the people for the ordinary purposes of legislation only, have no power to restrain the acts of succeeding assemblies, constituted with powers equal to our own, and that therefore to declare this act to be irrevocable would be of no effect in law; yet we are free to declare, and do declare, that the rights hereby asserted are of the natural rights of mankind, and that if any act shall be hereafter passed to repeal the present, or to narrow its operation, such act will be an infringement of natural right.

Source: William W. Hening (ed.), The Statutes at Large, Being a Collection of All the Laws of Virginia ( New York, 1823), XII, 84-86.


SUGGESTIONS FOR BACKGROUND AND REFERENCE

R. C. Vaughan and M. D. Peterson, The Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom: its Evolution and Consequences in American History ( New York, 1988).

References for Documents 20 and 22.


24
United States Constitution (Extracts) September 17, 1787 [adopted in Convention]

Though a Bill of Rights was proposed at the Philadelphia Convention, the original document dealt with religion only in Article VI. (The omission of reference to God was unfavorably noted by some contemporaries.) In June 1789 Madison proposed to Congress a Bill of Rights, duly adopted and ratified as the first ten amendments, of which the first contained the fundamental statute on church-state relations in America. The prohibition at first applied to the federal government only and was not made applicable to the states until after judicial interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment, adopted in 1868. (Despite its much later origin, the relevant section of the Fourteenth Amendment is here included for completeness.)


From Article VI:

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; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.

-65-

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