Separation of Church and State

In October/November of 1777  my ancestor Rev. John Corbley joined the House of Delegates for Virginia.


By E. G. Swem 

As a step toward the separation of the church and state in 
Virginia, the convention which met in Richmond, on July 17, 
1775, adopted, in the "Ordinance for regulating the election of 
delegates," a clause disqualifying all clergymen of the Church 
of England, and all dissenting ministers or teachers from election 
as delegates, or sitting and voting in convention. 1 In the con- 
vention of May, 1776, which adopted a permanent constitution, 
the substance of this clause was embodied in the constitution. 
All those holding lucrative offices, and all ministers of the gospel 
of every denomination were declared incapable of being elected 
members of either house of assembly, or the privy council. 2 Un- 
fortunately, we have no report of the debates on this or any other 
subject in the convention, except as briefly mentioned in the 
journal. It will be observed that this disqualification applied not 
only to clergymen of the Church of England, but to members of 
every denomination. It is not fair to assume that this was in- 
serted from fear of the ministers of the established church only. 
There was as much danger from religious interference in the new 
government by over-zealous Baptist and Presbyterian ministers, 
who might get in the assembly, as from the others. The clause, 
because of its including ministers of all churches, must have re- 
ceived the support of all factions in the convention. 

*9 Hening, 57. 

2 9 Hening 117, Aritcle XIII. 

My ancestor was the first to be disqualified from the House of Delegates with this law….

The first minister to whom the disqualifying clause was ap-
plied, after 1776, was John Corbley, of Monongalia, who was re-
turned to serve in the House of Delegates, when it met in October,
1777. On being objected to, on the ground that he was a minister,
he was heard in his place upon the matter, and confessed himself
to be a minister of the gospel, but alleged that he received no
stipend or gratuity for performing that function. The fact of
receiving no stipend had no effect upon the house, for it was
resolved that he could not serve.


Though I believe in separation of church and state, I personally believe that separation is best to prevent undue pressure on any person by any group.  Every person has a right to their own beliefs. Laws in the government are meant to be based on a vote of the majority that follows the norms of society.  In our society currently a subset of the population is chosen to vote on the laws to govern.  I find it interesting that when first set up the government of VA excluded ministers. (I did find that in 1798 the constitution of Georgia was rewritten to give rights to religious persons –

I haven’t researched it yet, but I am curious whether any state still discourages ministers from holding office?