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Constitutional Prohibitions: Religious Tests

February 2nd, 2016

The United States has a complicated history when it comes to religion, despite its founders having strong ties to the religions of their forefathers.  When the first settlers came to what is now known as New England, they did so in part in an attempt to be free from religious persecution.  The Puritans, Huguenots, Mennonites, and Jesuits were among some of the first settlers of what would become the United States because of horrific acts of prejudice against religions other than those in power at the time (i.e. Catholic and Church of England).  religious tests

A Brief Lesson in History

Wherever they settled, these pilgrims formed close communities of people who shared their religious convictions and worshipped in the way they felt was the most correct, far away from the murders and problems in the Old World.  The years that followed led to a revolution that shook the world, and the United States was created as a place that from its creation separated government leadership from religion.  In the words of the original text of the Constitution, “no religious tests shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”  Despite the arguable clarity of the text, there are still those who seem to be confused, as evidenced by comments that are still made by those who are seemingly well versed in all things American.

Religious Test

As much as our society relies on the use of tests to show how an individual ranks among his or her peers, it was decided long ago that the use of religious testing to determine the leader of our country was unconstitutional.  It is likely due to the problems attributable to governmental sponsored religion in Europe that our forefathers attempted to avoid by keeping them separate.  When a candidate for the nation’s highest office makes comments in favor of religious testing, it is important for the public to look behind his words to seek out his motivation.  This is because what will be found is likely the exact reason that makes such tests wrong in the first place.  When the candidate spoke, he did so in a targeted manner against one specific religion.  It was not even his love for his own religion that made him argue against the founding fathers of our country, but distrust.  This kind of targeted hate is dangerous in a citizen holding no public office, but it can prove extremely harmful when wielded by someone in a seat of power such as that of the President of the United States.  

Not only does this country pride itself on its history of being a place where a person can practice religion in a manner he or she sees fit inside its boundaries, but it is also involved in political discourse and foreign affairs with countries regardless of their religious leanings.  In order to truly be a world power, a nation cannot be bound by religious tenets that paint the world in black and white terms only.  While there have been few cases that have made their way through American courts on the basis of religious testing, the discussion of the status of religious freedom in the United States has been a hot topic of conversation in recent years.  

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