Removing a Religious Nonconformist from Office

Dateline: Virginia, 1663. What happens when someone hangs out with Quakers? This brief post explains, in part, why the constitutional Founders adopted the First and Sixth Amendments 120 years later: Freedom of religion and no religious test.

The High Sheriff reports to the House of Burgesses held at James City on September 12, 1663 that John Porter was getting involved with the wrong Christian denomination.

Modernized transcription begins:

Whereas Mr. John Hill, High Sheriff of Lower Norfolk [County], represented to the House [of Burgesses] that John Porter, one of the burgesses of that country, was loving to the Quakers and stood well affected towards them and had been at their meetings, and was so far an Anabaptist as to be against the baptizing of children; upon which representation the said Porter confessed himself to have and be well affected to the Quakers, but conceived his being at their meetings could not be proved, upon which the oaths of allegiance and supremacy were tendered to him, which he refused to take; whereupon it is ordered that the said Porter be dismissed [from] this house.

The First Amendment says Congress shall not establish a religion. That is, the government is neutral about religion. The Sixth Amendment does not permit a Religious Test Act for politicians and other public offices. Being a Quaker or Anabaptist or Roman Catholic or a Jew does not prevent him or her on the basis of his religion from holding high office or work as a government bureaucrat.

Journals of the House of Burgesses of Virginia, 1659/60—1693, ed. H. R. McIlwaine, Richmond: 1914, p. 21.

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