Pennsylvania Constitution, 1776




A convention completed this constitution, which is excerpted as it pertains to religion, in Philadelphia on September 28, 1776. Its preamble states that the delegates “met, for the express purpose of framing such a government, confessing the goodness of the great Governor of the universe.” This constitution, which was not submitted to Pennsylvanians for ratification, exempts the “conscientiously scrupulous” from bearing arms. While requiring legislators to make a prescribed statement of faith, it then prohibited any “further” religious test for other office holders.

Because this oath admitted Roman Catholics to full rights in elected offices, it is somewhat more liberal than the requirements of most states at the time. Ben Franklin presided at this constitutional convention. Franklin was opposed to any religious test, and saw this last provision as a compromise. Had this rather broad language not been approved, a much narrower version might have been introduced. In contrast to the broad language of the oath, the test had a narrow application, as it applied only to the legislature. The requirement that one acknowledge the New Testament as divine scripture did not sit well with the Jews, who in 1783 successfully petitioned that that phrase be dropped.

Lewis Roca Rothgerber Christie Religious Institutions Group

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We the representatives of the freemen of Pennsylvania, in general convention met, for the express purpose of framing such a government, confessing the goodness of the great Governor of the universe (who alone knows to what degree of earthly happiness mankind may attain, by perfecting the arts of government) in permitting the people of this State, by common consent, and without violence, deliberately to form for themselves such just rules as they shall think best, for governing their future society; and being fully convinced, that it is our indispensable duty to establish such original principles of government, as will best promote the general happiness of the people of this State and their posterity, and provide for future class, sect or denomination of men whatever, do, by virtue of the authority vested in us by our constituents, ordain, declare, and establish, the following Declaration of Rights and Frame of Government. . . .

A Declaration of the Rights of the Inhabitants of the State of Pennsylvania.

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II. That all men have a natural and unalienable right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own consciences and understanding: And that no man ought or of right can be compelled to attend any religious worship, or erect or support any place of worship, or maintain any ministry, contrary to, or against, his own free will and consent: Nor can any man, who acknowledges the being of a God, be justly deprived or abridged of any civil right as a citizen, on account of his religious sentiments or peculiar mode of religious worship: And that no authority can or ought to be vested in, or assumed by any power whatever, that shall in any case interfere with, or in any manner control, the right of conscience in the free exercise of religious worship.

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VIII. That every member of society hath a right to be protected in the enjoyment of life, liberty and property, and therefore is bound to contribute his proportion towards the expence of that protection, and yield his personal service when necessary, or an equivalent thereto: But no part of a man’s property can be justly taken from him, or applied to public uses, without his own consent, or that of his legal representatives: Nor can any man who is conscientiously scrupulous of bearing arms, be justly compelled thereto, if he will pay such equivalent, nor are the people bound by any laws, but such as they have in like manner assented to, for their common good.

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Plan or Frame of Government.

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SECT. 10.

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And each member [of the house of representatives], before he takes his seat, shall make and subscribe the following declaration, viz:

I do believe in one God, the creator and governor of the universe, the rewarder of the good and the punisher of the wicked. And I do acknowledge the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be given by Divine inspiration.

And no further or other religious test shall ever hereafter be required of any civil officer or magistrate in this State.

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Source: the federal and state constitutions, colonial charters, and other organic laws of the united states 1540-43 (Ben: Perley Poore, 1878).