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6 - Religious Tests, Loyalty Oaths, and the Ecclesiastical Context of the First Amendment

from Part II - Historical Interpretations

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 December 2019

Michael D. Breidenbach
Affiliation:
Ave Maria University, Florida
Owen Anderson
Affiliation:
Arizona State University
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Summary

This chapter investigates the two non-establishment clauses in the U.S. Constitution: the no-religious-test clause in Article VI, and the no-establishment-of-religion clause in the First Amendment. Since religious tests were the clearest manifestation of state sovereignty over religion, their prohibition in Article VI elided any notion of a “Church of the United States” even before the First Amendment. The federal oath-Congress’s first act-no longer required a denial of Catholic beliefs as previous oaths had, yet loyalty remained a prerequisite to securing religious liberty. The chapter then contends that the First Amendment establishment clause was based on what Congress had stated in 1783: that powers in “purely spiritual” matters were “reserved to the several States, individually.” Congress had declared this principle in response to the Holy See’s request for it to approve a Catholic bishop, and had thus renounced one of the rights of patronage that governments traditionally held over ecclesiastical affairs. This context adds to the original meaning of the establishment clause, for simply prohibiting a national church did not necessarily forbid this right of patronage.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2020

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