Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Test Acts

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TEST ACTS.The principle that none but persons professing the established religion were eligible for public employment was adopted by the legislatures of both England and Scotland soon after the Reformation. In England the Acts of Supremacy and Uniformity and the severe penalties denounced against recusants, whether Roman Catholic or Nonconformist, were affirmations of this principle. The Act of 7 Jac. I. c. 2 provided that all such as were naturalized or restored in blood should receive the sacrament of the Lord's Supper. It was not, however, until the reign of Charles II. that actual receiving of the communion of the Church of England was made a condition precedent to the holding of public offices. The earliest imposition of this test was by the Corporation Act of 1661 (13 Car. II. st. 2, c. 1), enacting that, besides taking the oath of allegiance and supremacy and subscribing a declaration against the Solemn League and Covenant, all members of corporations were within one year after election to receive the sacrament of the Lord's Supper according to the rites of the Church of England. This Act was followed by the Test Act of 1672 (25 Car. II. c. 2). The immediate cause of the Test Act (the full title of which is "An Act for preventing dangers which may happen from popish recusants") was the king's declaration of indulgence, dispensing with laws inflicting disabilities on Nonconformists. This Act enforced upon all persons filling any office, civil or military, the obligation of taking the oaths of supremacy and allegiance and subscribing a declaration against transubstantiation, and also of receiving the sacrament within three months after admittance to office. The Act did not extend to peers; but in 1678 30 Car. II. st. 2 enacted that all peers and members of the House of Commons should make a declaration against transubstantiation, invocation of saints, and the sacrifice of the mass, a special exception being made in favour of the duke of York. The provisions of the Test Act were violated by both Charles II. and James II. on the ground of the dispensing power claimed by the Stuart kings. In a well-known case of Godden v. Hales (11 State Trials, 1166), an action for penalties under the Test Act brought against an officer in the army, the judges decided in favour of the dispensing power, a power finally abolished by the Bill of Rights. After a considerable number of amendments and partial repeals by the legislature of the Acts of 1661, 1672, and 1678, and of Acts of indemnity to protect persons under certain circumstances from penalties incurred under the Test Act, the necessity of receiving the sacrament as a qualification for office was abolished by 9 Geo. IV. c. 17, and all Acts requiring the taking of oaths and declarations against transubstantiation, &c., were repealed by the Roman Catholic Relief Act of 1829 (10 Geo. IV. c. 7). This general repeal has been followed by the special repeal of the Corporation Act by the Promissory Oaths Act, 1871 (34 and 35 Vict. c. 48), of the Test Act by the Statute Law Revision Act, 1863, and of the Act of 1678 by 29 and 30 Vict. c. 19. Religious tests remained in the English universities until 1871. To be a member of the Church of England was a necessary condition precedent for holding most university or college offices by the Act of Uniformity of 1662, and such offices were not affected by the Toleration Act of 1688 and the Roman Catholic Relief Act of 1829. In 1871 the University Tests Act abolished subscriptions to the articles of the Church of England, all declarations and oaths respecting religious belief, and all compulsory attendance at public worship in the universities of Oxford, Cambridge, and Durham. There is an exception confining to persons in holy orders of the Church of England degrees in divinity and positions restricted to persons in holy orders, such as the divinity and Hebrew professorships.

Scotland.—A religious test was imposed immediately after the Reformation. By 1567, c. 9, no one was to be appointed to a public office or to be a notary who did not profess the Reformed religion. The Scotch Test Act was 1681, c. 6, rescinded by 1690, c. 7. Renunciation of popery was to be made by persons employed in education (1700, c. 3). A motion to add, after the 18th article of union, an exemption of Scotsmen from the sacramental test in the United Kingdom was negatived by the Scottish parliament. A similar fate awaited a proposal that while a sacramental test was in force in England all persons in public office in Scotland should subscribe their adhesion to the Presbyterian Church government. By 1707, c. 6, all professors, principals, regents, masters, or others bearing office in any university, college, or school in Scotland were to profess and subscribe to the Confession of Faith. All persons were to be free of any oath or test contrary to or inconsistent with the Protestant religion and Presbyterian Church government. The reception of the communion was never a part of the test in Scotland as in England and Ireland. The necessity for subscription to the Confession of Faith by persons holding a university office (other than that of principal or professor of theology) was removed by 16 and 17 Vict. c. 89. The Act provides that in place of subscription every person appointed to a university office is to subscribe a declaration according to the form in the Act, promising not to teach any opinions opposed to the divine authority of Scripture or to the Confession of Faith, and to do nothing to the prejudice of the Church of Scotland or its doctrines and privileges.

Ireland.—An oath of allegiance was required by the Irish Act of Supremacy (2 Eliz. c. 1). The English Act of 3 Will. and M. c. 2 substituted other oaths and enforced in addition from peers, members of the House of Commons, bishops, barristers, attorneys, and others a declaration against transubstantiation, invocation of the Virgin Mary and the saints, and the sacrifice of the mass. By the Irish Act of 2 Anne c. 6 every person admitted to any office, civil or military, was to take and subscribe the oaths of allegiance, supremacy, and abjuration, to subscribe the declaration against transubstantiation, &c., and to receive the Lord's Supper according to the usage of the Church of Ireland. English legislation on the subject of oaths and declarations was adopted in Ireland by Yelverton's Act, 21 and 22 Geo. III. c. 48, 3 (Ir.). These provisions were all repealed by the Promissory Oaths Act, 1871. The Roman Catholic Relief Act of 1793 (33 Geo. III. c. 21, Ir.) excepted Trinity College, Dublin, from its provisions, and tests existed in Dublin university until 1873. They were abolished as far as regarded certain scientific professorships in 1867 by 30 Vict. c. 9, and were finally abolished for the whole university by the University of Dublin Tests Act, 1873, except as to professors of and lecturers in divinity.

United States.—By art. 6 of the constitution, "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States." A similar provision is generally included in the State constitutions.