August 17, 2017

God or the divine is referenced in every state constitution

The U.S. Constitution never explicitly mentions God or the divine, but the same cannot be said of the nation’s state constitutions. In fact, God or the divine is mentioned at least once in each of the 50 state constitutions and nearly 200 times overall, according to a Pew Research Center analysis.

All but four state constitutions – those in Colorado, Iowa, Hawaii and Washington – use the word “God” at least once. The constitutions in Colorado, Iowa and Washington refer to a “Supreme Being” or “Supreme Ruler of the Universe,” while Hawaii’s constitution makes reference to the divine only in its preamble, which states that the people of Hawaii are “grateful for Divine Guidance.”

Most state constitutions – 34 – refer to God more than once. Of the 116 times the word appears in state constitutions, eight are in the Massachusetts constitution, and New Hampshire and Vermont have six references each. Perhaps surprisingly, all three of these states are among the least religious in the country, according to a 2016 Pew Research Center analysis.

In addition to the 116 mentions of God, there are also 14 mentions of a Supreme or Sovereign Being, seven mentions of the “Creator,” three mentions of “providence,” four mentions of “divine” and 46 instances of the word “almighty.” While there are 32 mentions of the word “Lord,” all but one refer to “the year of our Lord” and so are not direct references to God. (Indeed, the U.S. Constitution also makes reference to “the year of our Lord.”) There also are seven mentions of the word “Christian.”

A handful of state constitutions explicitly prohibit those who do not believe in God from holding public office. However, these bans have not recently been enforced because it is generally assumed that they violate the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition on requiring religious tests for those holding public office.

For this analysis, up-to-date constitutions were obtained from state-run websites and searched for a variety of keywords, including “God,” “creator,” “divine,” “Lord,” “Supreme Being” and others. Mentions that were inherently unrelated to religion were removed. For example, Rhode Island’s capital is Providence, so mentions of the capital were not counted in this analysis. At the same time, a mention of “the good providence of God” in Connecticut’s constitution was counted as both an instance of the word “God” and the word “providence.”

Topics: Religion and Society, Religion and Government, Religion and U.S. Politics, State and Local Government

  1. Photo of Aleksandra Sandstrom

    is a copy editor focusing on religion at Pew Research Center.