Torcaso v. Watkins

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Torcaso v. Watkins  (1961) 

Torcaso v. Watkins, 367 U.S. 488 (1961) was a United States Supreme Court case in which the court reaffirmed that the United States Constitution prohibits States and the Federal Government from requiring any kind of religious test for public office, in the specific case, as a notary public.

Court Documents

Supreme Court of the United States

367 U.S. 488

Torcaso  v.  Watkins

Appeal from the Court of Appeals of Maryland

No. 373  Argued: April 24, 1961 --- Decided: June 19, 1961

Appellant was appointed by the Governor of Maryland to the office of Notary Public; but he was denied a commission because he would not declare his belief in God, as required by the Maryland Constitution. Claiming that this requirement violated his rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments, he sued in a state court to compel issuance of his commission; but relief was denied. The State Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that the state constitutional provision is self-executing without need for implementing legislation and requires declaration of a belief in God as a qualification for office.

Held: This Maryland test for public office cannot be enforced against appellant, because it unconstitutionally invades his freedom of belief and religion guaranteed by the First Amendment and protected by the Fourteenth Amendment from infringement by the States. Pp. 489-496.

Messrs. Leo Pfeffer, New York City, and Lawrence Speiser, Washington, D.C. (Messrs. Joseph A. Sickles, Carlton R. Sickles, Washington, D.C., Bruce N. Goldberg, Bethesda, Md., Rowland Watts, Baltimore, Md., and George Kaufmann, Washington, D.C., on the brief), for appellant.

Messrs. Thomas B. Finan, Cumberland, Md., and Joseph S. Kaufman, Baltimore, Md. (Messrs. C. Ferdinand Sybert, Ellicott City, Md., Stedman Prescott, Jr., Silver Springs, Md., on the brief), for appellee.

Messrs. Herbert A. Wolff and Leo Rosen, New York City, for American Ethical Union.

Herbert B. Ehrmann, Boston, Mass., Laurence Peirez, Woodside, N.Y., Isaac G. McNatt, Abraham Blumberg, Arnold Forster, Paul Hartman, Theodore Leskes, Edwin J. Lukas and Sol Robkin, New York City, for the American Jewish Committee ad others, amici curiae.


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).