Sunday, February 12, 2012

Petition of the Philadelphia Synagogue to Council of Censors of Pennsylvania

I've been meaning to post this for some time.  We've seen that PA's original 1776 state constitution contains a clause requiring certain public officials to swear belief in the divine inspiration of the Old and New Testament.  Christian nationalists often cite that clause as a smoking gun.  But then we learn in 1790, under the direction of acting governor Ben Franklin (who noted he himself couldn't pass the test because he didn't believe the entire Old Testament was divinely inspired!), PA removed and replaced the offending clause with one that required belief in "the being of a God and a future state of rewards and punishments,..."

Guess who else had a problem with PA's original religious test?  Jewish people who didn't believe in the divine inspiration of the New Testament.  You can read their complaints here.

A taste:

That by the tenth section of the Frame of Government of this Commonwealth, it is ordered that each member of the general assembly of representatives of the freemen of Pennsylvania, before he takes his seat, shall make and subscribe a declaration, which ends in these words, "I do acknowledge the Scriptures of the old and new Testament to be given by divine inspiration," to which is added an assurance, that "no further or other religious test shall ever hereafter be required of any civil officer or magistrate in this state."

Your memorialists beg leave to observe, that this clause seems to limit the civil rights of your citizens to one very special article of the creed; whereas by the second paragraph of the declaration of the rights of the inhabitants, it is asserted without any other limitation than the professing the existence of God, in plain words, "that no man who acknowledges the being of a God can be justly deprived or abridged of any civil rights as a citizen on account of his religious sentiments." But certainly this religious test deprives the Jews of the most eminent rights of freemen, solemnly ascertained to all men who are not professed Atheists.


Brad Hart said...

Interesting, Jon. Thanks for posting. I wonder if Swedenborgians had the same issue. Didn't they start up in PA? I could be wrong on that.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Thanks Brad. I have more to learn about the Swedenborgs. I know 1. GW didn't seem to have any problem with them and told them they had equal religious rights under our system. And 2. Thomas Jefferson invited John Hargrove to preach a sermon to the Capitol, thereby demonstrating his commitment to a pluralistic public square that transcended orthodox Christianity.