The Framers’ Debates on Religion

The First Amendment and the Utah Constitution

Lesson II. Amending the U.S. Constitution with a Bill of Rights

Step 2. Why a Bill of Rights?

Welcome & Overview

Transcript

Hello again. It’s Eleesha. This part is about amending the Constitution with a Bill of Rights. I’m going to summarize and introduce the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia of 1787 and the First Federal Congress in New York City in 1789 and why the delegates were working on a Bill of Rights.

How was your summer? Well the summer of 1787 was really hot. That’s when the delegates to the Constitutional Convention gathered in Philadelphia to create the Constitution. They finished the convention on September 17, 1787 the day we celebrate the Constitution today. But the Constitution had no Bill of Rights and many states said they would only ratify if a Bill of Rights was added the first time the new Congress met. The Constitution was ratified by the ninth state, New Hampshire, on June 21, 1788 and became law. The government then started operating under the new Constitution. The first time the federal Congress met was in the nation’s capital. Where do you think that was, Washington, DC? Nope! That didn’t exist yet. The First Federal Congress met in New York City and that’s where the Bill of Rights was made. Join me in learning how the delegates in the First Federal Congress debated a Bill of Rights. Their main question about religion was what amendment they should write for the Bill of Rights. Could Congress make laws about religion that applied to all the states? That was the main question they debated. Join me to learn more about the Bill of Rights debates about religion.

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Transcript

A few of the delegates at the 1787 Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia were concerned that the document they created did not have a Bill of Rights. The idea of a Bill of Rights was brought up late in the Convention when many delegates were ready to go home after a long hot summer of deliberations. At the time, delegates, such as James Madison, argued that a Bill of Rights was not necessary. The Constitution only granted a very limited set of powers to the federal government and all the states had their own bills of rights. But during the ratification debates, it became a hot issue that the Constitution had no Bill of Rights. Many of the Constitution’s critics only agreed to ratify if the Congress added a Bill of Rights at its first meeting.

After the Constitutional Convention, James Madison ran for a seat in the House of Representatives and his supporters made him promise to add a Bill of Rights when he got to Congress in New York City, the seat of the federal government at the time.

What amendments should be added to the Constitution about religion? In Article VI, Clause 3, the Constitution already banned a religious test for public office. Was more required? Each state already had its own laws defining the relationship between church and state. Some states had established churches, or churches run by the state government with tax money. Others did not have established churches. All had diverse religious communities influencing local politics. Most states used tax money to support teachers of religion.

Several states sent recommendations for amendments and James Madison brought his own proposed amendments for the Congress to consider.

Here are a few questions the congressmen weighed when it came to religion and the Bill of Rights:

  • Should Congress be banned from making any laws concerning religion?
  • If Congress can make laws concerning religion, should all states in the Union be covered by the same law?
  • Should Congress be able to require codes of religious behavior to ensure virtuous citizens?

Writing an amendment concerning religion was an enormous task. The congressmen needed to craft language that their states would ratify. What amendments about religion would you recommend to the congressmen as they arrived to debate a Bill of Rights?

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What amendments about religion would you have recommended?

Here are a few questions the congressmen weighed when it came to religion and the Bill of Rights:

  • Should Congress be banned from making any laws concerning religion?
  • If Congress can make laws concerning religion, should all states in the Union be covered by the same law?
  • Should Congress be able to require codes of religious behavior to ensure virtuous citizens?


Writing an amendment concerning religion was an enormous task. The congressmen needed to craft language that their states would ratify. What amendments about religion would you recommend to the congressmen as they arrived to debate a Bill of Rights? 

Lesson II. Step 2 of 7
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