The Framers’ Debates on Religion

The First Amendment and the Utah Constitution

In this Lesson I, you’ll journey through hundreds of years of religious history leading up to the First Federal Congress of 1789. Lesson themes include the legal transitions from religious persecution, to religious toleration to religious free exercise.
In this Lesson II, you’ll examine the Bill of Rights congressional debates for discussion about religion. This lesson ends with exploring the various amendment proposals for religion before arriving at the First Amendment text we know today, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”
In Lesson III, you’ll explore the events leading up to the Utah state constitutional convention of 1895 and discover the Utah state constitution’s provisions about religion. You’ll end this lesson with applying the 3Rs Framework of Rights, Responsibility, and Respect to your Utah community today.

Watch Eleesha summarize these three lessons:


Hey there. I’m Eleesha. I’m a humanities scholar here in Utah. Wishing you a happy Constitution Day. Each year on September 17th, we celebrate the day when the framers signed the U.S. Constitution. I think it’s really important to know what the framers were thinking and doing when they created the Constitution because their decisions impact us every day.
This lesson will focus on the Framers’ debates about religion when they created the Bill of Rights.

I’d like to take you on a journey in 3 lessons. Lesson I is the historical background for religion in revolutionary America. Lesson II focuses on the debates for the Bill of Rights, especially the religion clauses of the First Amendment. Lesson III focuses on the creation of the Utah state constitution and religion in Utah today.

I hope you’ll take away at least three things from this lesson: First, discover the religious diversity in early America that influenced the creation of the religion clauses of the First Amendment; second, explore how the debates of the First Federal Congress shaped the text of the religion clauses of the First Amendment. What questions did the delegates ask about religion?; And third, Investigate the Utah state constitution for its laws about religion.

The First Amendment guarantees five freedoms: freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, and freedom to petition your government. This means that all people have the freedom of expression, the freedom for news agencies to be independent from the government. It also means you can gather in public places and protest and use the courts and the public square to express your opinions about the government that serves you. You also have the freedom to be religious or not, and we all have the freedom from a national government using one religion to govern everyone.

In this lesson, we’ll focus on what freedom of religion means in the First Amendment. It has two parts, called the religion clauses: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” The Establishment Clause prohibits the United States government from favoring one religion over another. The Free Exercise Clause protects the inherent right for everyone to express their belief or no belief as they choose, as long as it does not violate the rights of others.

After we learn about the development of these clauses, we’ll look at the Utah constitution and what it says about religion. Then you’ll discuss with your class how these concepts play out in your Utah community today.

It is easy to think historical events will occur no matter what. But important moments in history happen when individuals make decisions and act. Learning about the decisions and actions people made in the past informs us so we can make decisions and take action today. We’re going to learn about the pivotal moment in history in which the First Federal Congress created the religion clauses of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.

If you have any questions, please connect with your teacher or feel free to reach me at Let’s begin!

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Eleesha Tucker is a history and civics educator living in Utah. She loves history about the American Revolution, U.S. Constitution, and Utah. She believes in the 3Rs for citizenship: Rights, Responsibility and Respect where every person has rights, everyone has the responsibility to protect the rights of others, and everyone has the duty to respectfully contribute to civic discourse.


Learn more about how to promote the 3Rs — rights, responsibility, respect — in your school and community.