North Carolina Constitution, 1776


North Carolina


During the revolutionary period, only Virginia preceded North Carolina in separating church and state. The original Carolina Provincial Charter of 1663 establishes the Church of England as the recognized religion, but also grants eight men and their heirs the authority to excuse as they see fit, and with such limitations as they deem necessary, any person who could not in good conscience conform to the laws, ceremonies and oaths of the established church. Persons receiving such exemptions were still required to obey all civil and other ecclesiastical laws. Following this Charter, Carolina adopted John Locke’s “Fundamental Constitutions” in 1669. Although they were short-lived, the principles of religious tolerance contained therein doubtless had an effect upon the North Carolina constitution of 1776. Up until the time preceding the Revolutionary War, non-Anglican religious sects were granted “indulgences” as tolerated groups in spite of the Anglican establishment. Then, pursuant to the Schism Act, North Carolina colonial governments from 1730 to 1773 excluded all Anglican dissenters from holding any sort of public office or position. By 1773, the tide began to turn and non-Anglican clergy and dissenters were allowed back into public office and positions. Finally, in 1776, the Halifax Congress met and adopted the constitution that follows. This constitution remained in force for nearly 60 years. As far as religious freedom is concerned, only three minor changes were made by way of amendment: in Article XXXII, the word “Protestant” was changed to “Christian”; in Article XXXI, the clause regarding the incapacity of clergyman to hold office was stricken; and Article XXXIV was omitted.

Lewis Roca Rothgerber Christie Religious Institutions Group


* * * *

XVIII. That the people have a right to assemble together, to consult for their common good, to instruct their Representatives, and to apply to the Legislature, for redress of grievances.

XIX. That all men have a natural and unalienable right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own consciences.

* * * *

XXXI. That no clergyman, or preacher of the gospel, of any denomination, shall be capable of being a member of either the Senate, House of Commons, or Council of State, while he continues in the exercise of the pastoral function.

XXXII. *That no person, who shall deny the being of God or the truth of the Protestant religion, or the divine authority either of the Old or New Testaments, or who shall hold religious principles incompatible with the freedom and safety of the State, shall be capable of holding any office or place of trust or profit in the civil department within this State.

* * * *

XXXIV. That there shall be no establishment of any one religious church or denomination in this State, in preference to any other; neither shall any person, on any pretence whatsoever, be compelled to attend any place of worship contrary to his own faith or judgment, nor be obliged to pay, for the purchase of any glebe, or the building of any house of worship, or for the maintenance of any minister or ministry, contrary, to what he believes right, or has voluntarily and personally engaged to perform; but all persons shall be at liberty to exercise their own mode of worship:– Provided, That nothing herein contained shall be construed to exempt preachers of treasonable or seditious discourses, from legal trial and punishment.

* * * *

Source: the federal and state constitutions, colonial charters, and other organic laws of the united states 1409-14 (Ben: Perley Poore, 1878).