Torcaso v. Watkins

367 U.S. 488
Torcaso v. Watkins
Argued: April 24, 1961
Decided: June 19, 1961

Opinion of the Court

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.

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