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Monday, January 06, 2020

Second Thoughts About Religious Tests




You wrote that the members of the North Carolina legislature in 1809 who sought to enforce the protestants-only religious test against its Jewish member, Jacob Henry, “really do look stupid.”

They certainly look stupid to Americans today. And they were at risk of looking stupid to many of their more broad minded contemporaries. Still, I think you are being overly judgmental, if not harsh. They were placed in a position which required their enforcing a bad legal rule. That is always difficult. I could be wrong, but my sense from fairly extensive contacts with a broad range of Jews in the UK ... is that most are quite attached to the monarchy ... along with the monarch being head of the Anglican Church. Were the Queen to publicly and actively become an atheist/agnostic or to convert to a non-Christian religion (including Judaism) or to affiliate with a church not in communion with the established church, I think most Jews in the UK would expect (in the normative sense) her to abdicate, much like Edward VIII did. I am not expert in UK law, but if the Queen converted out, I think statutes would come into play displacing her from her position—even if she did not abdicate. If British government officials enforced those statutes on this point, I would think it would be a somewhat unfortunate result and a bad law to boot. I also think most British Jews would be loath to call those charged with enforcing settled-law (about which the enforcers might even personally disagree) bigots or stupid. Of course, such a result—based on a religious test—is wholly un-American, which is precisely the point. North Carolina in 1809 with its House of Commons and its two members for the counties and one member for the towns was modelled on Blake’s England: it was still midstream between an older British identity and now modern American identity.

Seth Barrett Tillman, A Religious Test in America?: New Sources on the 1809 Motion to Vacate Jacob Henry’s North Carolina State Legislative Seat (submitted for 2020 publication), <https://ssrn.com/abstract=3498217>.

Seth Barrett Tillman, Second Thoughts About Religious Tests, New Reform Club (Jan. 6, 2020, 1:53 PM), <https://reformclub.blogspot.com/2020/01/second-thoughts-about-religious-tests.html>.

8 comments:

Unknown said...

I'm not sure which statutes you have in mind, as calling the Queen's position in question were she to change her religion. Certainly that goes way beyond the Act of Settlement (which is in any event specifically concerned only with conversion *to Catholicism*), nor is it a breach of the Coronation oath unless she actively attempted to sabotage her former church, and I'm not sure what else you can have in mind.

Seth Barrett Tillman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Seth Barrett Tillman said...

Act of Settlement: "That whosoever shall hereafter come to the possession of this Crown, shall join in communion with the Church of England, as by law established."

Austin Mike said...
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Tracy Mattingly said...
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