Like many of the post-revolutionary constitutions of the newly independent states, the 1776 Constitution of North Carolina limited eligibility in regard to (some) positions in the state government. Only Protestants were eligible. Specifically, Article XXXII provided:
That no person, who shall deny the being of God or the truth of the Protestant religion, or the divine authority either of the Old or New Testaments, or who shall hold religious principles incompatible with the freedom and safety of the State, shall be capable of holding any office or place of trust or profit in the civil department within this State.
Interestingly, there is no record (of which I am aware) indicating that wide ranging concerns about religious freedom or religious establishments swung the members. It appears that what interested the members was not abstract norms, fairness, or even the purposes of Article XXXII; rather, what swung the members’ decision was their understanding of the state constitution’s actual language. As Professor Orth has explained: “The house…refused to exclude him, apparently on the ground that a seat in the General Assembly was not an ‘Office…of Trust or Profit’ within the meaning of the North Carolina Constitution ….” To put it another way:
Despite all this, however, the victory [for freedom of religion in North Carolina] was one in form only, not in substance. As a matter of fact, the [Article XXXII Religious] [T]est was more firmly implanted than ever. The House of Commons in permitting Henry to retain his seat…emphasized rather than weakened its prohibition. The decision was based on the fact that the Constitution prohibited non-Protestants from holding office in any civil department of the State. This was interpreted not to exclude such persons from serving in the legislature. The legislative office, it was said, was above all civil offices.