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 7. Changing the Text

Student Exercise: Identify the Significant Changes

In your opinion, what were the most significant changes in the text from the beginning of the debates to the words sent to the states for ratification? Explain why you believe it is the most significant. Write down your thoughts and your reasoning and bring it to our class discussion.

Scroll through the proposed amendments to get a sense of how the proposals changed throughout the course of the debates.

June 8, 1789

House of Representatives

“The civil rights of none shall be abridged on account of religious belief or worship, nor shall any national religion be established, nor shall the full and equal rights of conscience be in any manner, or on any pretext, infringed…. No State shall violate the equal rights of conscience, or the freedom of the press, or the trial by jury in criminal cases.”

~ James Madison, Delegate of Virginia

June 8, 1789
August 13, 1789

House of Representatives

“No religion shall be established by law, nor shall the equal rights of conscience be infringed.”
August 13, 1789
August 24, 1789

Text the House sent to the Senate

“Congress shall make no law establishing religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, nor shall the rights of Conscience be infringed.”
August 24, 1789
September 9, 1789

Text Senate sends to the House

“Congress shall make no law establishing articles of faith or mode of worship, or prohibiting the free exercise of religion be infringed.”
September 9, 1789

Final Version

September 24, 1789

The House of Representatives agrees to Senate amendments with a few minor changes and agrees to send amendments to the states for ratification:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

Ratification by the States

December 15, 1791

Virginia becomes the 10th of the 14 original states to approve of ten amendments, making the U.S. Bill of Rights the first revision of a living constitution for and by the people.
The most recent revision took place in 1992 with the passage of the 27th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution that delayed the increase of salary for members of Congress until the following election.
A logo of the Quill Project

Optional: Explore Further

  • Visit the Quill Project to explore the congressional record of James Madison introducing his amendment proposals on June 8, 1789.
  • James Madison proposed an amendment to apply the Bill of Rights to both the federal and state government: “No State shall violate the equal rights of conscience, or the freedom of the press, or the trial by jury in criminal cases.” Madison thought it was the most important of all his proposals. Explore the congressional record that includes his response to Thomas Tudor Tucker’s proposal to strike it out.
  • Explore the congressional record of the final version of the amendments considered by the House of Representatives before it went to the states for ratification.

Congratulations! You completed the seven steps in Lesson II.


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