Does the U.S. president have to disclose their religious beliefs to the public? Let's say that the President is a member of an unpopular religious group. Do they have to disclose that fact to the public, or is that information confidential and protected?

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    In practice, associating with a religious or non-religious belief group is an easy way to build up support with at least some fraction of the electorate. I doubt that we'll ever see an American president who lists their religion as "declines to state". Aug 4, 2021 at 16:41
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    @EveryoneElse And also an easy way to alienate at least some fraction of the electorate. I think implicit in the question is that OP expects Scientology would sway more people against than for a candidate.
    – OJFord
    Aug 4, 2021 at 17:53
  • In Britan it has sometimes been observed that while in America, any candidate for high office, if they want to get elected, has to present themselves as having a religious belief, in Britain the electorate tends to be sceptical of any such expression and candidates are better off avoiding the subject. What does religious belief amount to? How is it measured?
    – WS2
    Aug 5, 2021 at 21:06

3 Answers 3


Legally, no. Article VI of the Constitution specifically says

no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.

So the government itself can't require any specific religious affiliation of POTUS.

But voters are not constrained by this. As other answers point out, many voters consider religious belief an important aspect of the candidate's character. Religious conservatives would rarely vote for an atheist. And even though the US is majority Christian, there's suspicion between denomination; Kennedy was and Biden is Catholic, and this raised concern among other denominations that this would give the Vatican undue influence, although not enough to prevent them from winning.

If a candidate didn't disclose their religion, voters who care would likely assume the worst -- "what are they trying to hide?"

As a practical matter, it would be quite difficult for a public figure to completely hide their religious affiliation. If they refused to disclose it voluntarily, this would just increase the resolve of reporters to investigate, and it will get out. While some voters might admire the candidate for standing their ground and protecting their privacy, the aforementioned voters who care about the candidate's religion will mostly feel that they're being deliberately evasive.

This is not too different from candidates publishing their tax returns. There's no legal requirement, just a tradition. But voters will wonder why they're evading the practice if there are no black marks there. Of course, as we've seen in one recent election, a persuasive enough personality can overcome this. But I think religion is a much more emotional area, so I doubt a candidate could make similar excuses not to disclose this and get away with it at the ballot box (but who knows? -- Trump claimed he could kill someone in Times Square and still get elected, and I almost believe that).

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    Just a side note: I've read that when Kennedy ran many Protestants expressed concern about "Vatican influence", whether that was really something Protestants talked about I don't know, I was a little boy at the time. But speaking as a Protestant, I can say that I never heard any Protestant express concern about "Vatican influence" over Biden. In fact, what I heard from Protestants was pretty much the opposite: that Biden rejected Catholic teaching on areas where Protestants agree with Catholics, like abortion and gay marriage. This has nothing to do with your main point.
    – Jay
    Aug 4, 2021 at 15:53
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    Which, to continue this tangent, now makes me wonder: When Kennedy ran, did Protestants really say that they wouldn't vote for him because he was Catholic? Or was that something that others said they thought Protestants were likely to say? I mean, I read a lot of statements these days about "conservatives say ..." or "liberals say ..." that are, shall we say, very free paraphrases of what the person actually said. :-)
    – Jay
    Aug 4, 2021 at 16:09
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    @Jay I don't know firsthand, it was a year before I was born, but I remember hearing that it was considered an issue. And there was also concern about Nixon being a Quaker, but probably more because most were unfamiliar with the sect.
    – Barmar
    Aug 4, 2021 at 16:12
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    @Barmar Quoting from the JFK Presidential Library and Museum, "Anti-Catholic prejudice was still very much in the mainstream of American life when JFK decided to seek the presidency in 1960." Aug 4, 2021 at 17:56
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    @Sayaman Of course. Just like he can lie about his business success, or the size of his inaugural crowd. If the people are gullible enough to believe these lies that are easily refuted, they deserve the President they get.
    – Barmar
    Aug 4, 2021 at 22:06

They do not.

One's affiliation with a religion is a private matter - and actually impossible to determine objectively save by the person who holds the affiliation. The information isn't confidential/protected, either, however. One's religious beliefs may be inferred from the organizations one associates with (i.e. what church you go to), or lack thereof. It is not impermissible to share information about someone's public affiliations.

But this information is not formally gathered anywhere.

American political tradition makes it very likely that a candidate for President of the United States who does not disclose a religious affiliation will be viewed with suspicion: historically anti-Catholic sentiment used to play a role in electoral politics, and anti-atheist sentiment in many areas of the U.S. But for Constitutional reasons, this information is not disclosed anywhere until/unless one claims a religious affiliation in order to resist a governmental restriction against the practice thereof: which is where most of the Free Exercise clause jurisprudence comes from.

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    Nit: The US census very deliberately does not ask you about your religious beliefs.
    – Kevin
    Aug 3, 2021 at 20:33
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    The political anti-Catholic bias disappeared 60 years ago.
    – RonJohn
    Aug 4, 2021 at 5:36
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    @RonJohn Has the definition of history changed? I wasn't aware of any statute of limitations on the past. Aug 4, 2021 at 12:55
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    The phrase "there is a history of" typically implies ongoing; I assert that it's not ongoing anymore. Thus, "there was a history of anti-Catholic sentiment".
    – RonJohn
    Aug 4, 2021 at 13:14
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    I'd challenge "one's affiliation with a religion is a private matter and impossible to determine objectively". If you mean, "what someone really believes in his heart of hearts", I suppose that's true. If someone believed that it was politically advantageous to be a Methodist for some reason, he could pretend to be a Methodist even if he really doesn't believe in that church's teachings. But keeping up such a fraud would surely be difficult. People might well point out that you just joined this church the day before you declared your candidacy, ...
    – Jay
    Aug 4, 2021 at 16:00

Short answer: No.

Long answer: Yes.

The reason why the long answer is yes (and also why it's a long answer) is as follows:

A large number (statistically significant number) of Americans identify as religious, in one way or another, and specifically as Judeo-Christian. A statistically significant number of those people believe that what are commonly known as "traditional values" are important in an elected representative. A statistically significant number of those people believe that, to varying degrees (whether they believe this about atheists, agnostics, pseudo-religions like Scientology, or simply any non-Judeo-Christian religion such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Shintoism, even Islam which is technically Judeo-Christian, etc, varies), those who do not follow a Judeo-Christian religion do not share those traditional values, at least not as strongly as those people would like them to.

Now, it is not required that a President disclose their religion. It is not even required that a President be religious. However, it is the case that if a Presidential candidate does not disclose their religion, or discloses their religion to be something other than Judeo-Christian, that they will automatically lose a statistically significant number of voters on that basis alone (see also, the campaign against Barack Obama vis-a-vis being a "closet Muslim"; whether you believe that campaign to be silly, or justified, or racist, or whatever, it is undeniable that it got significant traction amongst a statistically significant demographic). It is therefore in the best interest of any major political campaign to have their nominated person be (or pretend to be, at least) a practicing member of a Judeo-Christian religion.

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    I know you're being a little flippant, but better wording of your first two lines would be "Legally: no; Practically: yes".
    – Barmar
    Aug 3, 2021 at 20:40
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    But Trump did get significant support from Jews because of his stance towards Israel.
    – Barmar
    Aug 3, 2021 at 21:03
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    OK. Also, the "rabidly religious" are mainly orthodox and some conservative Jews, which is a minority of Jews in America. So they're not a strong voting block.
    – Barmar
    Aug 3, 2021 at 21:10
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    @nick012000 That wouldn't be the split. The pro-Israel evangelicals would largely (again, nothing is 100%) not vote for him because he is (relatively speaking) not a big supporter of Israel with respect to supplying arms to Israel and other issues. Aug 4, 2021 at 4:09
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    @nick012000 Evangelical Christians don't love Jews; they love Israel, the difference being that there are a lot of left-wing anti-Zionist Jews.
    – RonJohn
    Aug 4, 2021 at 5:41

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