WHEN DID RELIGIOUS MINORITIES GET THE RIGHT TO VOTE?

It is a widely-held myth that America was founded on the principle of religious freedom for all. That isn’t true. 8 of the 13 British colonies in America had an official state church. Everyone who lived in those colonies had to pay taxes to support it, but people who did not belong to the official church could not hold public office or vote. Another myth is that the First Amendment to the Constitution guarantees the right to vote to everyone, regardless of his religion, but that isn’t true either. Neither the Constitution nor the First Amendment say anything about the right to vote. The Constitution allowed every state to decide for itself who was eligible to vote. Some states had laws prohibiting Roman Catholics from voting unless they renounced their religion or signed a statement rejecting papal authority. Some states required voters to promise that they would fight in future wars to prevent Quakers from voting. Some states banned Mennonites, Baptists, Jews, and others from voting. Between 1800 and 1828, all state laws restricting the right to vote based on religion were repealed.

MARYLAND. Maryland was the last state to stop discriminating against unpopular religious minorities. (Yes, once again I am trashing my home state.) In 1828, Maryland became the last state to get rid of religious restrictions on voting when the state legislature passed a law allowing Jews to vote. The Maryland state constitution still contains a provision that says that only Christians can hold public office or practice law in the state, but the U.S. Supreme Court no longer allows Maryland to enforce this provision. However, it is still in the Maryland state constitution. The Maryland state constitution also prohibits atheists from holding public office, serving as jurors, or testifying in court as witnesses, even in their own defense. Maryland enforced this provision until 1961. In 1960, Governor Tawes appointed Roy Torcaso a Notary Public. When Mr. Torcsao refused to sign a declaration saying that he believed in God, his appointment was immediately revoked. The Supreme Court ruled unanimously that the Maryland law was unconstitutional. The court’s ruling applied to a number of other states that had similar laws. As a result, an atheist can now become a Notary Public, a bail bondsman, a coroner, a sheriff, or a juror in Maryland.

The Birther Issue

Donald Trump. When Barrack Obama first ran for president in 2008, Donald Trump claimed that Obama did not meet the Constitutional requirements to be President of the United States. Because that became a major issue in the election, I gave my history students a class on the Constitutional requirements for the job of president. I plan to give that class again later this month because the birther issue is back in the news. Ted Cruz was born in Canada, and because of that, a number of people (including some famous experts on Constitutional law) have questioned whether Ted Cruz is qualified to be president. Here is what I told my students in 2008.

There are 3 requirements for the job of President of the United States in the U.S. Constitution.

  1. The president must be 35 years of age.
  2. The president must have lived in the United States for at least 14 years. (The people who wrote the Constitution put in this provision because they wanted to be sure that the president was someone who understood the American people and was familiar with the country. They didn’t want someone who had spent his life in foreign countries.)
  3. The president must be a natural born citizen.

Birth Certificates. You will notice that there is no Constitutional requirement that the president has to have a birth certificate. You sometimes hear people say that the president has to have a birth certificate to prove that he was born in the United States, but that isn’t true. Although it is now standard procedure for someone to issue a birth certificate when a baby is born in a hospital in the United States, very few people prior to the 20th Century had birth certificates. Most of America’s 18th and 19th Century presidents were born at home, and on farms or on the frontier. There was nobody present when they were born to issue a birth certificate. The first U.S. president to be born in a city was Teddy Roosevelt, and he was a 20th Century president. We know that George Washington did not have a birth certificate. Neither did Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, or Abraham Lincoln. There is nothing in the U.S. Constitution about birth certificates.

Natural Born Citizen. The Constitution says that in order to be a senator or congressman, you merely need to be a citizen, but in order to be president, you have to be a natural born citizen. What’s the difference? Nobody knows for sure. The Constitution does not define the term ‘natural born citizen’. Congress has never passed a law defining this term, and the Supreme Court has never made a ruling on this issue. A number of people have run for president who were born in foreign countries, but none of them won, so the Supreme Court never heard a test case about this question. Below are the names of some of the men who ran for President of the United States, but who were not born in a state. 

  • George Romney, the Governor of Michigan and father of Mitt Romney. He ran for president in 1968. George Romney was born in Mexico. His parents lived in Mexico most of their lives and were married in Chihuahua. Was George Romney a natural born citizen? (I once met George Romney. It was at the Oakland Airport Hilton while he was Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.)
  • John McCain was the Republican candidate for president in 2008. He born in the Panama Canal Zone, which never part of a state. McCain came very close to getting elected. He got 48% of the popular vote.
  • Al Gore was born in Washington, D.C., which is also not a state.
  • Barry Goldwater was born in Arizona, but when Arizona was a territory, not a state.
  • Lowell Weicker, the Governor of Connecticut, ran for president in 1980. He was born in Paris, France.

Is Ted Cruz A Natural Born Citizen? If Ted Cruz is elected president, the Supreme Court will undoubtedly be immediately petitioned to decide whether he is or isn’t a natural born citizen. Ted Cruz could have a problem. The Panama Canal Zone was under the jurisdiction of U.S. law when John McCain was born there, and Washington, D.C. has always been under the jurisdiction of U.S. law. However, Canada is a foreign country and has never been under the jurisdiction of U.S. law. Also, both of Ted Cruz’s parents applied to vote in Canadian elections. That could be a big problem for Cruz. There is a long established legal principal that says that if you are a U.S. citizen and move to a foreign country and vote in their elections, that is evidence that you no longer consider yourself a U.S. citizen. Is Ted Cruz qualified to be president? A number of famous legal scholars have written articles on this subject. Some say that Ted Cruz is a natural born citizen. Others say he isn’t. If Ted Cruz is elected president, the Supreme Court will have to decide the question.