University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
Link to University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
Link to University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
The History Collection

Page View

Jensen, Merrill (ed.) / Ratification of the Constitution by the states: Delaware, New Jersey, Georgia, Connecticut
3 (1978)

V. Commentaries on the Constitution, 13 November 1787-7 January 1788,   pp. 456-534


Page 500

CONNECTICUT/17 DEC.
to administer the ordinance unto them; and thus to prostitute the
most sacred office of religion, for it is a civil right in the party to
receive the Sacrament. In that country, subscribing to the Thirty-
Nine Articles is a test for admission into holy orders. And it is a
fact that many of the clergy do this; when, at the same time, they
totally disbelieve several of the doctrines contained in them. In
short, test laws are utterly ineffectual; they are no security at all,
because men of loose principles will, by an external compliance, evade
them. If they exclude any persons, it will be honest men, men of
principle, who will rather suffer an injury than act contrary to the
dictates of their consciences. If we mean to have those appointed to
public offices who are sincere friends to religion, we the people who
appoint them must take care to choose such characters and not rely
upon such cobweb-barriers as test laws are.
But to come to the true principle by which this question ought to
be determined: The business of civil government is to protect the
citizen in his rights, to defend the community from hostile powers, and
to promote the general welfare. Civil government has no business to
meddle with the private opinions of the people. If I demean myself
as a good citizen, I am accountable not to man, but to God, for the
religious opinions which I embrace and the manner in which I
worship the Supreme Being. If such had been the universal senti-
ments of mankind, and they had acted accordingly, persecution, the
bane of truth and nurse of error with her bloody axe and flaming
hand, would never have turned so great a part of the world into a
field of blood.
But while I assert the right of religious liberty, I would not deny
that the civil power has a right, in some cases, to interfere in matters
of religion. It has a right to prohibit and punish gross immoralities and
impieties because the open practice of these is of evil example and
public detriment.
For this reason, I heartily approve of our laws against drunkenness,
profane swearing, blasphemy, and professed atheism. B  n this state,
we have never thought it expedient to adopt a test la      d yet I
sincerely believe we have as great a proportion of religion and morality
as they have in England, where every person who holds a public office
must be either a saint by law or a hypocrite by practice. A test law
is the parent of hypocrisy, and the offspring of error and the spirit
of persecution. Legislatures have no right to set up an inquisition and
examine into the private opinions of men. Test laws are useless and
ineffectual, unjust and tyrannical; therefore, the Convention have
done wisely in excluding this engine of persecution and providing that
no religious test shall ever be required,
500


Go up to Top of Page