Act Abolishing Benefit of Clergy Exception to the Criminal Code, 1790

An Act for the Punishment of Certain Crimes Against The United States, 1790 (“Benefit of Clergy”).

In colonial days, most of the colonies did not require clergyman to appear before civil courts for violations of the law. Often, clergyman were permitted to appear before an ecclesiastical court. These exemptions were commonly called “benefit of clergy.” In Section 31 of the Act that follows, Congress removed the benefit of clergy. This Act was eventually carried into the revised statutes and remained in effect until 1909, when it was omitted as obsolete. This Act is direct evidence of the desire of the founders of the government to carry out their purpose of maintaining church and state separation.

Lewis Roca Rothgerber Christie Religious Institutions Group

An Act of Congress

April 30, 1790

“An Act for the punishment of certain crimes against the U.S.”

* * * *

Section 31 . . . “It is that the benefit of clergy shall not be used or allowed, upon conviction of any crime, for which, by any statute of the United States, the punishment is or shall be declared to be death.”