Between 1787 and 1790, while the Constitution was being written, and then ratified, attacks by Muslim terrorists against America were already longstanding. Citizens of the new nation were understandably concerned about the possibility that Muslims might be elected to federal office under their new Constitution. This concern originated from Article VI of the Constitution, which states that Senators and Representatives are “bound by oath or affirmation to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”
Specifically raised was the question of whether the prohibition of a religious test meant that Muslims could be elected to federal office. The writers and ratifiers of the Constitution made it clear that could only happen if it was the will of the people of a district. In the North Carolina ratifying convention, Governor Samuel Johnston explained that “if the people of America lay aside the Christian religion altogether, it may happen. Should this unfortunately take place, the people will choose such men as think as they do themselves. Another case is if any persons of such descriptions should, notwithstanding their religion, acquire the confidence and esteem of the people of America by their good conduct and practice of virtue, they may be chosen.”
Supreme Court Justice James Iredell, who was nominated to the Court by President Washington, wrote that “it is objected that the people of America may perhaps choose representatives who have no religion at all, and that pagans and Mahometans may be admitted into offices. . . . But it is never to be supposed that the people of America will trust their dearest rights to persons who have no religion at all, or a religion materially different from their own.”
In 1837 a court opinion stated: “The distinction is a sound one between a religion preferred by law, and a religion preferred by the people without the coercion of law—between a legal establishment which the present constitution expressly forbids . . . and a religious creed freely chosen by the people for themselves.” In other words, although the Framers of the Constitution prohibited the federal government from applying any religious test, they left the voters completely free to do so.
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