McDaniel v. Paty
Decided on Apr. 19, 1978; 435 US 618


A Tennessee law barring members of the clergy from public office was overturned on the ground that the law was in violation of the First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion because it conditioned the right to free exercise of religion on the surrender of the right to seek office.

I. ISSUES II. CASE SUMMARY III. AMICI CURIAE IV. DECISION V. WIN OR LOSS?
I. ISSUES:

A. Issues Discussed: Separation of church and state, free exercise of religion

B. Legal Question Presented:

Did the disqualification of clergy from the Tennessee constitutional convention constitute a violation of the First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion?

II. CASE SUMMARY:

A. Background:

"Appellee Paty, a candidate for delegate to a Tennessee constitutional convention, sued in the State Chancery Court for a declaratory judgment that appellant, an opponent who was a Baptist minister, was disqualified from serving as delegate by a Tennessee statutory provision establishing the qualifications of constitutional convention delegates to be the same as those for membership in the State House of Representatives, thus invoking a Tennessee constitutional provision barring '[m]inister[s] of the Gospel, or priest[s] of any denomination whatever.'

That court held that the statutory provision violated the First and Fourteenth Amendments.

The Tennessee Supreme Court reversed, holding that the clergy disqualification imposed no burden on 'religious belief' and restricted 'religious action... [only] in the law making process of government - where religious action is absolutely prohibited by the establishment clause.'"

On appeal, the US Supreme Court reversed the judgment of the Supreme Court of Tennessee.

B. Counsel of Record:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Not available Not available
C. The Arguments:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
"Article VI of the US Constitution prohibits any religious tests as qualification for public office of the United States. Although Article VI applies only to the federal government, religious qualifying tests are also in violation of the First Amendment, which is applicable to the States through the Fourteenth Amendment. The clergy disqualification clause is such a test, in that it disqualifies from public office all those whose religious convictions compel them to serve as clergymen of their faith. Although the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment is not absolute, Tennessee must demonstrate a compelling state interest to infringe on the citizens' right of free exercise of religion, which the state has not done." "The freedom to act, whether it is in accord with one's religious beliefs or not, is not totally free from legislative restrictions. The clause in question does not restrict an individual's freedom of belief, nor does it force anyone to embrace religious belief, or to do anything against their religious beliefs. There is no fundamental right to hold political office. The clause serves the compelling state interest to preserve a government neutral toward religion. The government may not participate in the affairs of religious organizations, and vice versa."


 

III. AMICI CURIAE:
ACLU Side
(Petitioner/Appellant)
Opposing Side
(Respondent/Appellee)
Frederic S. Le Clercq argued the cause and filed a brief for appellant.

Leo Pfeffer, Abraham S. Goldstein, Joel Gora, George W. McKeag, John T. Redmond, James W. Respess, and Thomas A. Shaw filed a brief for the American Civil Liberties Union et al. as amici curiae urging reversal.
Kenneth R. Herrell, Assistant Attorney General of Tennessee, argued the cause for appellees. With him on the brief for appellees Hassler et al. were Brooks McLemore, Attorney General, and C. Hayes Cooney, Chief Deputy Attorney General. Phillip C. Lawrence filed a brief for appellee Paty
IV. THE SUPREME COURT'S DECISION:

"The challenged provision violates appellant's First Amendment right to the free exercise of his religion made applicable to the States by the Fourteenth Amendment, because it conditions his right to the free exercise of his religion on the surrender of his right to seek office...

The Tennessee disqualification also violates the Establishment Clause. Government generally may not use religion as a basis of classification for the imposition of duties, penalties, privileges, or benefits. Specifically, government may not fence out from political participation, people such as ministers whom it regards as overinvolved in religion. The disqualification provision employed by Tennessee here establishes a religious classification that has the primary effect of inhibiting religion."

The United States Supreme Court reversed the Supreme Court of Tennessee judgment.

Justice Vote: 8 Pro vs. 0 Con
  • Burger, W. Pro (Wrote majority opinion)
  • Brennan, W. Pro (Wrote concurring opinion)
  • Stewart, P. Pro (Wrote concurring opinion)
  • White, B. Pro (Wrote concurring opinion)
  • Powell, L. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Rehnquist, W. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Stevens, J. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Marhsall, T. Pro (Joined majority opinion)
  • Blackmun, H. No part in decision
V. A WIN OR LOSS FOR THE ACLU?

The ACLU, as amicus curiae, urged reversal of the judgment of the Supreme Court of Tennessee; the Supreme Court reversed in a 8-0 vote, giving the ACLU an apparent win.