Chancy Combo: Why the Founders Were Not Fans of Preacher-Politicians
Republican presidential nominee Donald J. Trump has vowed to repeal a federal law that bars houses of worship (and other tax-exempt non-profits) from endorsing or opposing candidates for public office.
In light of this, there has been a lot of talk lately about the proper role of religion in politics. Yesterday, evangelical scholar John Fea published an opinion column with Religion News Service that adds some overlooked – but important – history to the mix.
Fea pointed out that many of the Founding Fathers were so wary of mixing faith and politics that the state constitutions they wrote barred ministers from holding public office.
Revolutionary War-era constitutions in North Carolina, New York, Georgia, South Carolina, Delaware, Tennessee, Maryland and Kentucky banned members of the clergy from running for office, says Fea.
North Carolina’s 1776 Constitution says “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 the pastoral function.”
The New York Constitution of 1777 is similar. It states, “And whereas the ministers of the gospels 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 any pretense of description whatever, be eligible to, or capable of holding, any civil or military office or place within this State.”