Religious Disqualification

Religious Disqualification

Unanimously, but with great differences of approach, the Court declared invalid a Tennessee statute barring ministers and priests from service in a specially called state constitutional convention.320 The Court’s decision necessarily implied that the constitutional provision on which the statute was based, barring ministers and priests from service as state legislators, was also invalid.

320 McDaniel v. Paty, 435 U.S. 618 (1978). The plurality opinion by Chief Justice Burger, joined by Justices Powell, Rehnquist, and Stevens, found the case governed by Sherbert v. Verner’s strict scrutiny test. The State had failed to show that its view of the dangers of clergy participation in the political process had any validity; Torcaso v. Watkins was distinguished because the State was acting on the status of being a clergyman rather than on one’s beliefs. Justice Brennan, joined by Justice Marshall, found Torcaso controlling because imposing a restriction upon one’s status as a religious person did penalize his religious belief, his freedom to profess or practice that belief. Id. at 629. Justice Stewart also found Torcaso dispositive, id. at 642, and Justice White found an equal protection violation because of the restraint upon seeking political office. Id. at 643.

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