Torcaso v. Watkins

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In Torcaso v. Watkins, 367 U.S. 488 (1961), the U.S. Supreme Court held that no part of any government, federal, state, or local, within the United States may require a religious belief as a condition of holding public office. The Court based its holding in the First Amendment, not in Article VI. Justice Black, the Supreme Court Justice most hostile to religion in the 20th century, wrote the decision for the Warren Court.

The 7-2 Court (Justices Frankfurter and Harlan merely concurred in the result) held that:[1]

We repeat and again reaffirm that neither a State nor the Federal Government can constitutionally force a person 'to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion.' Neither can constitutionally pass laws or impose requirements which aid all religions as against non-believers, to the text of the note and neither can aid those religions based on a belief in the existence of God as against those religions founded on different beliefs.


  1. Torcaso v. Watkins, 367 U.S. 488, 495 (1961) (footnote omitted).