First Senate debates wording for religious freedom


Senate Record of September 3, 1789 to determine the wording of religious freedom; these motions and actions took place, giving the wording moved and the result:

  • Congress shall make no law establishing one religious sect or society in preference to others. Failed.
  • Motion to kill failed
  • Congress shall not make any law infringing the rights of conscience, or establishing any religious sect or society. Failed.
  • Congress shall make no law establishing any particular denomination of religion in preference to another. Failed.
  • Senate considered the language of the House: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” — the present wording.
  • Senate tinkered with wording, then accepted the House language.
  • Conference Committee appointed to reconcile different wording that included Madison from the House, that on September 24 reported the present wording that the Senate passed by 2/3 vote on Sept. 25, 1789.

This report is in Leonard W.Levy, Origins of the Bill of Rights with discussion of the wording and implications. He also reports on delays in that first Congress in starting work on a Bill of Rights. James Madison, Representative from Virginia, was a major mover toward action. The House had already acted, deciding on wording for most of the articles in the Bill of Rights before the Senate action reported above.