The Religious Freedom Page

Torcaso v. Watkins

367 U.S. 488 (1961)

Facts of the Case:

Torcaso was denied his appointment to Notary Public on Maryland because he refused to declare his belief in God. Article 37 of Maryland’s Declaration of Rights states “[N]o religious test ought ever to be required as a qualification for any office of profit or trust in this State, other than a declaration of belief in the existence of God .. ." Torcaso sued because he felt the test unfairly penalized him for not believing in God.


In a unanimous decision, the Court ruled that Maryland’s religious test violated Torcaso’s right to religious freedom.

Majority Opinion: (Justice Black)

The desire to protect people from taking religious test oaths led to the construction of Article 37 of the Constitution. It stated that, “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.” This was followed by the passage of the First Amendment that further granted citizens religious freedom. “We repeat and again reaffirm that neither a State nor the Federal Government can constitutionally force a person "to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion." Neither can constitutionally pass laws or impose requirements which aid all religions as against non-believers, and neither can aid those religions based on a belief in the existence of God as against those religions founded on different beliefs.”


This decision prevented states from using religious faith as a prerequisite for holding public office. The Court rejected the argument that holding such jobs is a privilege that can be restricted to people of faith.


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