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Test Act

The several Test Acts were a series of English penal laws that imposed various civil disabilities on Roman Catholics and nonconformists.

The principle that none but persons professing the established religion were eligible for public employment was adopted by the legislatures of both England and Scotland soon after the Reformation. In England the Acts of Supremacy and Uniformity and the severe penalties denounced against recusants, whether Roman Catholic or Nonconformist, were affirmations of this principle. The Act of 7 James I c. 2 provided that all such as were naturalized or restored in blood should receive the sacrament of the Lord's Supper.

It was not, however, until the reign of Charles II that actually receiving of the communion of the Church of England was made a condition precedent to the holding of public offices. The earliest imposition of this test was by the Corporation Act of 1661 (3 Charles II st. 2, c. 1), enacting that, besides taking the oath of allegiance and supremacy and subscribing a declaration against the Solemn League and Covenant, all members of corporations were within one year after election to receive the sacrament of the Lord's Supper according to the rites of the Church of England.

This act was followed by the Test Act of 1672 (25 Charles II. C. 2). The immediate cause of the Test Act (the full title of which is 'An act for preventing dangers which may happen from popish recusants') was the king's declaration of indulgence, dispensing with laws inflicting disabilities on Nonconformists. This act enforced upon all persons filling any office, civil or military, the obligation of taking the oaths of supremacy and allegiance and subscribing a declaration against transubstantiation, and also of receiving the sacrament within three months after admittance to office.

The act did not extend to peers; but in 1678 30 Charles II. ft. 2 enacted that all peers and members of the House of Commons should make a declaration against transubstantiation, invocation of saints, and the sacrifice of the mass-a special exception being made in favour of the duke of York.

The provisions of the Test Act were violated by both Charles II. and James II on the ground of the dispensing power claimed by the Stuart kings. In the well-known case of Godden v. Hales (II State Trials, Ii66), an action for penalties under the Test Act brought against an officer in the army, the judges decided in favour of the dispensing power-a power finally abolished by the Bill of Rights. After a considerable number of amendments and partial repeals by the legislature of the acts of 1661, 1672, and 1678, and of acts of indemnity to protect persons under certain circumstances from penalties incurred under the Test Act, the necessity of receiving the sacrament as a qualification for office was abolished by 9 George IV C. 17, and all acts requiring the taking of oaths and declarations against transubstantiation, &c., were repealed by the Roman Catholic Relief Act of 1829 (10 Geo. IV. c. 7).

This general repeal has been followed by the special repeal of the Corporation Act by the Promissory Oaths Act 1871, of the Test Act by the Statute Law Revision Act 1863, and of the act of 1678 by an act of 1866 (29 & 30 Victoria c. 19). Religious tests remained in the English universities until 1871, in Dublin University until 1873, and the Scottish universities until 1889.

To be a member of the Church of England was a necessary condition precedent for holding most university or college offices by the Act of Uniformity of 1662, and such offices were not affected by the Toleration Act[?] of 1688 and the Roman Catholic Relief Act of 1829. In 1871 the University Tests Act abolished subscriptions to the articles of the Church of England, all declarations and oaths respecting religious belief, and all compulsory attendance at public worship in the universities of Oxford, Cambridge and Durham. There is an exception confining to persons in holy orders of the Church of England degrees in divinity and positions restricted to persons in holy orders, such as the divinity and Hebrew professorships.

(Adapted from the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica)

(The '16 Charles II c. 2' nomenclature is reference to the statute book of the numbered year of the reign of the named King in the stated chapter. This is the method used for Acts of Parliament from before 1962.

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