Constitution Sunday: Reverend Daniel Shute on Religious Tests and Christian Belief

Massachusetts Ratifying Convention.

January 31, 1788

Reverend Daniel Shute rose at the convention to speak not for—but against—adding a religious test as a qualification for offices that the Constitution created. He opined that such tests “would be attended with injurious consequences to some individuals, and with no advantage to the whole.”

The flaw could be found in such a test being largely symbolic: “Unprincipled and dishonest men will not hesitate to subscribe to any thing, that may open the way for their advancement, and put them into a situation the better to execute their base and iniquitous designs.” Then, with such a test in place and dishonest men taking advantage, honest men, “however well qualified to serve the publick, would be excluded by it, and their country be deprived of the benefit of their abilities.”

Even in 1788, Reverend Shute said, “In this great and extensive empire, there is and will be a great variety of sentiments in religion among its inhabitants.” Therefore, he reasoned, excluding a set of people based on their religious sentiments would only serve notions of bigotry, not sound governance. All should “have an equal claim to the blessings of the government under which they live, and which they support, so none should be excluded from them for being of any particular denomination in religion.”

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