The Framers’ Debates on Religion
The First Amendment and the Utah Constitution
Lesson III: The Utah State Constitution of 1895
Step 4. Utah State Constitution
Welcome & Overview
Hi there, it’s Eleesha. This lesson is about the Utah state constitution. In this part, we’ll talk about how the Latter-day Saints settled Utah territory to escape religious persecution. Eventually, they asked Congress eight times to be a state and it repeatedly said, “no” in part because it feared Utah would create a union of church and state and because some Latter-day Saints practiced polygamy–when one man has more than one wife. On the ninth time applying for statehood, the delegates to the Utah constitutional convention created a constitution that Congress liked. It showed a sepration of church and state and banned the practice of polygamy. Congress then allowed Utah to become a state. Utah’s constitution included strong protections for religious liberties and church state separation. These include:
- The rights of conscience will never be infringed
- The state will not establish a church
- Free exercise of religion is guaranteed
- No religious test for public office
- Jurors will not be judged for religious belief or none
- No union of church and state
- Public funds will not be used to support religious instruction or worship
- No one will be persecuted or lose property because of their religion
- No public money will support sectarian schools
- No religious test for teachers or students in public schools
- No government funding can aid religious educational institutions
Join me to learn more about it!
The religious group known as Latter-day Saints nicknamed the Mormons fled the United States to escape religious persecution. By 1847, they settled in the Salt Lake Valley in what became known as Utah territory. They built thriving communities and practiced their religion in relative peace. Latter-day Saints from Europe and the eastern United States immigrated to Utah and swelled the population.
Eventually, these settlers applied for Utah to become a state. Statehood would give the region more autonomy through its own elected state government and representatives.
Hostility toward the Latter-day Saints continued across America even after they fled to Utah. Their peculiar religious beliefs, tight knit communities, bloc voting power and polygamous marriage practices sparked religious predjudice.
When the territory of Utah applied for statehood, at first Congress repeatedly said no, pointing to polygamy as the reason it could not be a state. The congressman feared the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) and the state government would be one in the same.
On the ninth attempt to apply for statehood, Utah called a constitutional convention that drafted its state constitution. No one in the debates in the Utah constitutional convention expressed a desire to create a union between the church and the state. All of the speakers during the debates expressed reasons to make a strong division between any church and the state government,
and in fact the delegates to the Utah constitutional convention created provisions for one of the strongest “walls” between church and State anywhere in the United States at the time.
These sentiments are reflected in the final text they created. The delegates of the Utah constitutional convention defined greater legal protections than the federal government provided at the time. The Utah constitution ensured:
The rights of conscience will never be infringed
The state will not establish a church
Free exercise of religion is guaranteed
No religious test for public office
Jurors will not be judged for religious belief or none
No union of church and state
Public funds will not be used to support religious instruction or worship
No one will be persecuted or lose property because of their religion
No public money will support sectarian schools
No religious test for teachers or students in public schools
No government funding can aid religious educational institutions
These provisions in the Utah state constitution created the strongest “walls” between church and state in the Union at the time.