Thursday, May 31, 2007

Pennsylvania's Theistic Rationalist Religious Test:

In the comments section, James J. Goswick has repeated the following dubious information numerous times.

James Wilson, who later became a Justice on the U.S. Supreme Court, joined Thomas Mifflin in signing the U.S. Constitution, including Article VI, yet returned home to Pennsylvania to help draft the state constitution in 1790, which required that each member of the legislature, 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.”

Pennsylvania Frame of Government, Sec 10, in The Constitutions of the Several Independent States of America, Boston: Norman and Bowen, 1795, p. 81

If Mr. Goswick indeed got that information from the cited book, he should burn it, because it is sending him down the wrong road. The religious test reproduced above was from Pennsylvania's Constitution of 1776 which document Ben Franklin helped to write. Yet, as I noted here, Franklin was against such provision, in part because he couldn't pass it! Soon thereafter, as acting governor, Franklin helped repeal such illiberal test. And indeed, Franklin and Benjamin Rush thought the test violated the Declaration of Independence which grants men "unalienable rights," the most important of which is "conscience." And all men, according to such theory, regardless of whether they are Christian, possess unalienable rights of conscience.

So what was James Wilson's relation to such Constitution? As this site notes,

Wilson opposed the popular new plan of government on the grounds that its unicameral legislature and its lack of a system of checks and balances would lead to mob rule rather than to ordered government. Because of this opposition, the leaders of the state government removed Wilson from Congress and relieved him of his militia commission. Wilson now took up residence in Annapolis, Maryland (1777-78), but this move only intensified the scandal since he was now charged with abandoning his state. As news of his opposition to the Pennsylvania constitution spread, his popularity continued to wane. In 1779, after he moved back to Pennsylvania, a mob attacked Wilson and a number of conservative state legislators barricaded in Wilson's Philadelphia home. The skirmish that ensued resulted in casualties on both sides. Thereafter, the citizens of Philadelphia dubbed the old house "Fort Wilson."

Wilson did ultimately return to PA and help to write their new constitution of 1790. And indeed, it did contain a religious test. Though, it was not a Christian religious test, but a theistic rationalist one. This is all the religious test required:

That no person, who acknowledges the being of a God and a future state of rewards and punishments, shall, on account of his religious sentiments, be disqualified to hold any office or place of trust or profit under this commonwealth.

This perfectly confirms what I wrote in this past post about our Founders desire for a religious citizenry -- anything but atheists. Or, as the theistic rationalist Ben Franklin put it:

Here is my Creed: I believe in one God, Creator of the Universe. That He governs it by his Providence. That he ought to be worshipped. That the most acceptable Service we can render to him, is doing Good to his other Children. That the Soul of Man is immortal, and will be treated with Justice in another Life respecting its Conduct in this. These I take to be the fundamental Principles of all sound Religion, and I regard them as you do, in whatever Sect I meet with them.

Though, I prefer Art. VI of the US Constitution's approach: No religious tests period. If the people want to elect an atheist, so be it.

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