By the year 1702 all 13 American colonies had some form of state-supported religion. This support varied from tax benefits to religious requirements for voting or serving in the legislature. Below are excerpts from colonial era founding documents citing these religious references.
Most instances of state-supported religion were removed before 1850, and the remaining requirements became null and void after the passing of the 14th Amendment on July 28, 1868. New Hampshire and North Carolina removed the nullified religious references from their state constitutions in 1875 and 1877 respectively.
I. Time Between Original Colonial Charter and End of State-Supported Religion (Click on a colony to read its documents relating to state-supported religion.)
II. Text from Historical Documents Showing State Support of Religion
Official Religion: Anglican/Church of England Original Charter Date: Apr. 10,1606 Full text of The First Charter of Virginia (PDF) 15.5K Ended Support: 1830
"Every Person should go to church, Sundays and Holidays, or lye Neck and Heels that Night, and be a Slave to the Colony the following Week; for the second Offence, he should be a Slave for a Month; and for the third, a Year and a Day."
Governor Argall's Decree
"That religion, or the duty which we owe to our Creator and the manner of discharging it, can be directed by reason and conviction, not by force or violence; and therefore, all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience; and that it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity towards each other."
Virginia Declaration of Rights
"Section I. The opinions of men are not the object of civil government, nor under its jurisdiction; that to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles on supposition of their ill tendency is a dangerous fallacy, which at once destroys all religious liberty, because he being of course judge of that tendency will make his opinions the rule of judgment, and approve or condemn the sentiments of others only as they shall square with or differ from his own...
Section II. We the General Assembly of Virginia do enact that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer, on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities."
Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom
Jan. 16, 1786
"No man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested or burthened, in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief: but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge or affect their civil capacities.
And the legislature shall not prescribe any religious test whatsoever; nor confer any peculiar privileges or advantages on any one sect or denomination; nor pass any law requiring or authorizing any religious society, or the people of any district within this commonwealth to levy on themselves or others any tax for the erection or repair of any house for public worship or for the support of any church or ministry, but it shall be left free to every person to select his religious instructor, and make for his support such private contract as he shall please."
"The Dutch Colony of the seventeenth century was officially intolerantly Protestant but was, as has been noted, in practice tolerant and fair to people of other faiths who dwelt within New Netherland.
When the English took the province from the Dutch in 1664, they granted full religious toleration to the other forms of Protestantism, and preserved the property rights of the Dutch Reformed Church, while recognizing its discipline.
In 1697, although the Anglican Church was never formally established in the Province of New York, Trinity Church was founded in the City of New York by royal charter, and received many civil privileges and the munificent grants of land which are the source of its present great wealth."
"THAT Noe person or persons which professe ffaith in God by Jesus Christ Shall at any time be any wayes molested punished disquieted or called in Question for any Difference in opinion or Matter of Religious Concernment"
New York Charter of Liberties and Privileges
"Article XXXVIII. And whereas we are required, by the benevolent principles of the rational liberty, not only to expel civil tyranny, but also to guard against that spiritual oppression and intolerance wherewith the bigotry and ambition of weak and wicked priests and princes have scourged mankind, this convention doth further, in the name and by the authority of the good people of this state, ordain, determine, and desire, that the free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference, shall be forever hereafter be allowed, within this state, to all mankind: PROVIDED That the liberty of conscience, hereby granted, shall not be so construed as to excuse acts of licentiousness, or justify practices inconsistent with the peace or safety of this state.
Article XXXIX. And whereas the ministers of the gospel are, by their profession, dedicated to the service of God and the care of souls, and ought not to be diverted from the great duties of their function, therefore, no minister of the gospel, or priest of any denomination whatsoever, shall, at any time hereafter, under and preference or description whatever, be eligible to, or capable of holding, any civil or military office or place within this state."
New York Constitution
The New York Constitution of 1846 ended all restrictions against religious officials from holding office or being in the military.
"Like many who arrived on these shores in the 17th century, the Puritans of Massachusetts Bay came to America seeking religious freedom… The freedom they sought, however, was for themselves and not for others. The Puritans felt called by God to establish 'new Israel,' a holy commonwealth based on a covenant between God and themselves as the people of God. Though there were separate areas of authority for church and state in Puritan Massachusetts, all laws of the community were to be grounded in God's law and all citizens were expected to uphold the divine covenant…
Very early in the Massachusetts experiment, dissenters arose to challenge the Puritan vision of a holy society. The first dissenter, Roger Williams (c.1603-1683), was himself a Puritan minister but with a very different vision of God's plan for human society. Williams argued that God had not given divine sanction to the Puritan colony. In his view, the civil authorities of Massachusetts had no authority to involve themselves in matters of faith. The true church, according to Williams, was a voluntary association of God's elect. Any state involvement in the worship or God, therefore, was contrary to the divine will and inevitably led to the defilement of the church…
Banished from Massachusetts in 1635, Roger Williams founded Rhode Island, the first colony with no established church and the first society in America to grant liberty of conscience to everyone."
"Article II. It is the right as well as the duty of all men in society, publicly and at stated seasons, to worship the Supreme Being, the great Creator and Preserver of the universe. And no subject shall be hurt, molested, or restrained, in his person, liberty, or estate, for worshipping God in the manner and season most agreeable to the dictates of his own conscience, or for his religious profession or sentiments. provided he doth not disturb the public peace or obstruct others in their religious worship.
Article III. And every denomination of Christians, demeaning themselves peaceably and as good subjects of the commonwealth, shall be equally under the protection of the law; and no subordination of any one sect or denomination to another shall ever be established by law.
Chapter VI. Article I. Any person chosen governor, lieutenant-governor, councillor, senator, or representative, and accepting the trust, shall, before he proceed to execute the duties of his place or office, make and subscribe the following declaration, viz:
'I _______, do declare that I believe the Christian religion...'"
"[A]ll religious sects and denominations, demeaning themselves peaceably, and as good citizens of the commonwealth, shall be equally under the protection of the law; and no subordination of any one sect or denomination to another shall ever be established by law."
Massachusetts Constitution, Article XI
Official Religion: Anglican/Church of England Original Charter Date: June 20, 1632 Full text of The Charter of Maryland (PDF) 22.6K Ended Support: 1867
"Article XXXIII. That, as it is the duty of every man to worship God in such manner as he thinks most acceptable to him; all persons, professing the Christian religion, are equally entitled to protection in their religious liberty; wherefore no person ought by any law to be molested in his person or estate on account of his religious persuasion or profession, or for his religious practice; unless, under colour of religion, any man shall disturb the good order, peace or safety of the State, or shall infringe the laws of morality, or injure others, in their natural, civil, or religious rights; nor ought any person to be compelled to frequent or maintain, or contribute, unless on contract, to maintain any particular place of worship, or any particular ministry; yet the Legislature may, in their discretion, lay a general and equal tax for the support of the Christian religion; leaving to each individual the power of appointing the payment over of the money, collected from him, to the support of any particular place of worship or minister, or for the benefit of the poor of his own denomination, or the poor in general of any particular county: but the churches, chapels, globes, and all other property now belonging to the church of England, ought to remain to the church of England forever...
Article XXXV. That no other test or qualification ought to be required, on admission to any office of trust or profit, than such oath of support and fidelity to this State, and such oath of office, as shall be directed by this Convention or the Legislature of this State, and a declaration of a belief in the Christian religion."
Maryland State Constitution
All religious requirements were eliminated in the constitution of 1867.
Maryland State Constitution
Official Religion: None Original Charter Date: 1637 Chartered by the South Company of Sweden Ended Support: 1792
"BECAUSE no People can be truly happy, though under the greatest Enjoyment of Civil Liberties, if abridged of the Freedom of their Consciences, as to their Religious Profession and Worship: And Almighty God being the only Lord of Conscience, Father of Lights and Spirits; and the Author as well as Object of all divine Knowledge, Faith and Worship, who only doth enlighten the Minds, and persuade and convince the Understandings of People, I do hereby grant and declare, That no Person or Persons, inhabiting in this Province or Territories, who shall confess and acknowledge Our almighty God, the Creator, Upholder and Ruler of the world; and professes him or themselves obliged to live quietly under the Civil Government, shall be in any Case molested or prejudiced, in his or their Person or Estate, because of his or their consciencious Persuasion or Practice, nor be compelled to frequent or maintain any religious Worship, Place or Ministry, contrary to his or their Mind, or to do or suffer any other Act or Thing, contrary to their religious Persuasion.
AND that all Persons who also profess to believe in Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the World, shall be capable (notwithstanding their other Persuasions and Practices in Point of Conscience and Religion) to serve this Government in any Capacity, both legislatively and executively..."
Charter of Delaware
"That all Men have a natural and unalienable Right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates Of their own conscience and understandings; that no Man ought or of right can he compelled to attend any religious Worship or maintain any Ministry contrary to or against his own free Will and Consent, 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.
That all Persons professing the Christian Religion ought forever to enjoy equal Rights and Privileges in this State..."
Delaware Declaration of Rights and Fundamental Rules
"Article 22. Every person who shall be chosen a member of either House, or appointed to any office or place of trust... shall take the following oath:
'I _______, do profess faith in God the Father, and in Jesus Christ His only Son, and in the Holy Ghost, One God, blessed for evermore; and I do acknowledge the holy scriptures of the Old Testament and New Testament to be given by Divine Inspiration.'
Article 29. There shall be no establishment of any religious sect in this State in preference to another; and no clergyman or preacher of the gospel, of any denomination, shall be capable of holding any civil office in this state, or of being a member of either of the branches of the legislature, while they continue in the exercise of the pastoral function."
Delaware State Constitution
"No religious test shall be required as a qualification to any office, or public trust, under this State."
"[O]ur said people, Inhabitants there, may bee soe religiously, peaceably and civilly Governed as their good life and orderly Conversacon may wynn and invite the Natives of the Country to the knowledge and obedience of the onely true God and Saviour of mankind, and the Christian faith, which in our Royall intencons and the Adventurers free profession is the onely and principall end of this Plantacon."
Connecticut Colony Charter
"Article I. Section 3. The exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination, shall forever be free to all persons in this State, provided that the right hereby declared and established shall not be so construed as to excuse acts of licentiousness, or to justify practices inconsistent with the peace and safety of the State.
Article I. Section 4. No preference shall be given by law to any Christian sect or mode of worship.
Article VII. Section 1. It being the duty of all men to worship the Supreme Being, the great Creator and Preserver of the Universe, and their right to render that worship in the mode most consistent with the dictates or their consciences, no person shall by law be compelled to join or support, nor be classed with, or associated to, any congregation, church, or religious association; but every person now belonging to such congregation, church, or religious association, shall remain a member thereof until he shall have separated himself therefrom, in the manner hereinafter provided. And each and every society or denomination of Christians in this State shall have and enjoy the same and equal powers, rights, and privileges; and shall have power and authority support and maintain the ministers or teachers of their respective denominations, and to build and repair houses for public worship by a tax on the members of any such society only, to be laid by a major vote of the legal voters assembled at any society meeting, warned and held according to law, or in any other manner."
"Article III. When men enter into a State of society they surrender up some of their natural rights to that society, in order to ensure the protection of others...
Article IV. Among the natural rights, some are in their very nature unalienable, because no equivalent can be given or received for them. Of this kind are the RIGHTS OF CONSCIENCE...
Article V. Every individual has a natural and unalienable right to worship GOD according to the dictates of his own conscience and reason; and no person shall be hurt, molested, or restrained in is person, liberty, or estate for worshipping God in the manner most agreeable to the dictates of his own conscience, or for his religious profession, sentiments, or persuasion; provided he doth not disturb the public peace or disturb others in their religious worship.
Senate. Provided, nevertheless, That no person shall be capable of being elected a senator who is not of the Protestant religion...
House of Representatives. Every member of the house of representatives... shall be of the Protestant religion...
President. [H]e shall be of the Protestant religion."
New Hampshire Constitution
"And be it further enacted, that each religious sect or denomination of Christians in this State may associate and form societies, may admit members, may establish rules and bylaws for their regulation and government, and shall have all the corporate powers which may be necessary to assess and raise money by taxes upon the polls and ratable estate of the members of such associations, and to collect and appropriate the same for the purpose of building and repairing houses of public worship, and for the support of the ministry; and the assessors and collectors of such associations shall have the same powers in assessing and collecting, and shall be liable to the same penalties as similar town officers have and are liable to--Provided that no person shall be compelled to join or support, or be classed with, or associated to any congregation, church or religious society without his express consent first had and obtain--Provided also, if any person shall choose to separate himself from such society, or association to which he may belong, and shall leave a written notice thereof with the clerk of such society or association, he shall thereupon be no longer liable for any future expenses which may be incurred by said society or association--Provided also, that no association or society shall exercise the powers herein granted until it shall have assumed a name and stile by which such society may be known and distinguished in law, and shall have recorded the same in a book of records to be kept by the clerk of said Society, and shall have published the same in some newspaper in the County where such society may be formed if any be printed therein, and if not then in some paper published in some adjoining County."
The Toleration Act, Section 3D
"House of Representatives. Article 14. Amended 1877 deleting requirement that representatives be Protestants.
Senate. Article 29. Amended l877 deleting requirements that senators be Protestant."
"That [the inhabitants], pursueing, with peaceable and loyall minces, their sober, serious and religious intentions, of goalie edifieing themselves, and one another, in the holy Christian faith and worship, as they werepersuaded; together with the gaining over and conversion of the poor ignorant Indian natives, in thoseparts of America, to the sincere profession and obedience of the same faith and worship...
true pietye rightly grounded upon gospell principles, will give the best and greatest security to sovereignetye, and will lay in the hearts of men the strongest obligations to true loyaltye: Now know bee, that wee beinge willinge to encourage the hopefull undertakeinge of oure sayd lovall and loveinge subjects, and to secure them in the free exercise and enjovment of all theire civill and religious rights, appertaining to them, as our loveing subjects; and to preserve unto them that libertye, in the true Christian ffaith and worshipp of God...
That our royall will and pleasure is, that noe person within the sayd colonye, at any tyme hereafter, shall bee any wise molested, punished, disquieted, or called in question, for any differences in opinione in matters of religion, and doe not actually disturb the civill peace of our sayd colony; but that all and everye person and persons may, from tyme to tyme, and at all tymes hereafter, freelye and fullye have and enjoye his and theire owne judgments and consciences, in matters of religious concernments...
and to direct, rule, order and dispose of, all other matters and things, and particularly that which relates to the makinge of purchases of the native Indians, as to them shall seeme meete; wherebv oure sayd people and inhabitants, in the sayd Plantationes, may be soe religiously, peaceably and civilly governed, as that, by theire good life and orderlie conversations, they may win and invite the native Indians of the countrie to the knowledge and obedience of the onlie true God, and Saviour of mankinde..."
Charter of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations
July 15, 1663
"Whereas Almighty God hath created the mind free; and all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burdens, or by civil incapacitations, tend to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness; and whereas a principal object of our venerable ancestors, in their migration to this country and their settlement of this state, was, as they expressed it, to hold forth a lively experiment that a flourishing civil state may stand and be best maintained with full liberty in religious concernments; we, therefore, declare that no person shall be compelled to frequent or to support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatever, except in fulfillment of such person's voluntary contract; nor enforced, restrained, molested, or burdened in body or goods; nor disqualified from holding any office; nor otherwise suffer on account of such person's religious belief; and that every person shall be free to worship God according to the dictates of such person's conscience, and to profess and by argument to maintain such person's opinion in matters of religion; and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect the civil capacity of any person."
Rhode Island Constitution, Article I, Section 3
Official Religion: None Original Charter Date: 1732 Full text of the Charter of Georgia (PDF) 24.2K Ended Support: 1798
"Article VI. [R]epresentatives... shall be of the Protestant religion...
Article LVI. All persons whatever shall have the free exercise of their religion; provided it be not repugnant to the peace and safety of the State; and shall not, unless by consent, support any teacher or teachers except those of their own profession."
Article I. Section 3. The 'representatives... shall be of the Protestant religion...' requirement was removed.
"Article IV. Section 5. All persons shall have the free exercise of religion, without being obligated to contribute to the support of any religious but their own."
"Article IV. Section 10. No person within this state shall, upon any pretense, be deprived of the inestimable privilege of worshipping God in any manner agreeable to his own conscience, nor be compelled to attend any place of worship contrary to his own faith and judgment; nor shall he ever be obliged to pay tithes, taxes, or any other rate, for the building or repairing any place of worship, or for the maintenance of any minister or ministry, contrary to what he believes to be right, or hath voluntarily engaged. To do. No one religious society shall ever be established in this state, in preference to another; nor shall any person be denied the enjoyment of any civil right merely on account of his religious principles."
10. North Carolina
Official Religion: Anglican/Church of England Original Charter Date: Mar. 24, 1663 Full text of the Charter of Carolina (PDF) 23.6K Ended Support: 1875
"Article XIX. That all men have a natural and unalienable right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own consciences.
Article 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 pastoral function.
Article XXXII. That no person, who shall deny the being of God or the truth of the Protestant religion, or the divine authority 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.
Article 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 presence 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, of 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."
North Carolina Constitution
All religious references and requirements were eliminated in the constitution of 1875.
North Carolina Constitution
11. South Carolina
Official Religion: Anglican/Church of England Original Charter Date: Mar. 24, 1663 Full text of the Charter of Carolina (PDF) 23.6K Ended Support: 1868
"Article XXXVIII. That all persons and religious societies who acknowledge that there is one God, and a future state of rewards and punishments, and that God is publicly to be worshipped, shall be freely tolerated. The Christian Protestant religion shall be deemed, and is hereby constituted and declared to be, the established religion of this State. That all denominations of Christian Protestants in this State, demeaning themselves peaceably and faithfully, shall enjoy equal religious and civil privileges. To accomplish this desirable purpose without injury to the religious property of those societies of Christians which are by law already incorporated for the purpose of religious worship, and to put it fully into the power of every other society of Christian Protestants, either already formed or hereafter to be formed, to obtain the like incorporation, it is hereby constituted, appointed, and declared that the respective societies of the Church of England that are already formed in this State for the purpose of religious worship shall still continue Incorporate and hold the religious property now in their possession. And that whenever fifteen or more male persons, not under twenty-one years of age, professing the Christian Protestant religion, and agreeing to unite themselves in a society for the purposes of religious worship, they shall, (on complying with the terms hereinafter mentioned,) be, and be constituted, a church, and be esteemed and regarded in law as of the established religion of the state, and on a petition to the legislature shall be entitled to be incorporated and to enjoy equal privileges. That every society of Christians so formed shall give themselves a name or denomination by which they shall be called and known in law, and all that associate with them for the purposes of worship shall be esteemed as belonging to the society so called. But that previous to the establishment and incorporation of the respective societies of every denomination as aforesaid, and in order to entitle them thereto, each society so petitioning shall have agreed to and subscribed in a book the following five articles, without which no agreement or union of men upon pretense of religion shall entitle them to be incorporated and esteemed as a church of the established religion of this State:
Ist. That there is one eternal God, and a future state of rewards and punishments.
2d. That God is publicly to be worshipped.
3d. That the Christian religion is the true religion.
4th. That the holy scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are of divine inspiration, and are the rule of faith and practice.
5th That it is lawful and the duty of every man being thereunto called by those that govern, to bear witness to the truth."
South Carolina Constitution
"Article VIII, Section 1. The free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference, shall forever hereafter be allowed within this State to all mankind, PROVIDED, That the liberty of conscience thereby declared shall not be construed as to excuse acts of licentiousness, or justify practices inconsistent with the peace and safety of this State."
South Carolina Constitution
14th Amendment to US Constitution was ratified by South Carolina in July 1868. The US Supreme Court ruled that this amendment ended state support of religion in all US states in ruling of Gitlow v. New York, 1925
"Section. 2. 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 or 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 controul, the right of conscience in the free exercise of religious worship.
Section 10... shall each [representative] before they proceed to business take... the following oath or affirmation:
'I do believe in one God, the creator and governor of the universe, the rewarder of the good and 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."
"That no person, who acknowledges the being of 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."
"XVIII. That no person shall ever, within this Colony, be deprived of the inestimable privilege of worshipping Almighty God in a manner agreeable to the dictates of his own conscience; nor, under any pretense whatever, be compelled to attend any place of worship, contrary to his own faith and judgment; nor shall any person, within this Colony, ever be obliged to pay tithes, taxes, or any other rates, for the purpose of building or repairing any other church or churches, place or places of worship, or for the maintenance of any minister or ministry, contrary to what he believes to be right, or has deliberately or voluntarily engaged himself to perform.
XIX. That there shall be no establishment of any one religious sect in this Province, in preference to another; and that no Protestant inhabitant of this Colony shall be denied the enjoyment of any civil right, merely on account of his religious principles; but that all persons, professing a belief in the faith of any Protestant sect, who shall demean themselves peaceably under the government, as hereby established, shall be capable of being elected into any office of profit or trust, or being a member of either branch of the Legislature, and shall fully and freely enjoy every privilege and immunity, enjoyed by others their fellow subjects."
New Jersey Constitution
"There shall be no establishment of one religious sect in preference to another; no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust; and no person shall be denied the enjoyment of any civil right merely on account of his religious principles."
New Jersey Constitution, Rights and Privileges, Article I, Section 4