“Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
On June 8, 1789, the initial draft of the First Amendment was proposed by James Madison.
"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.”
The House Select Committee, after a great deal of discussion revised the wording of the proposed amendment.
“No religion shall be established by law, nor shall the equal rights of conscience be infringed.”
Peter Sylvester, Representative of New York, objected to the Select Committee’s version.
“It might be thought to have a tendency to abolish religion altogether.”
James Madison proposed the insertion of the word “national” before the word “religion” but was rejected. Madison’s interpretation of the wording of the amendment was as follows:
“That Congress should not establish a religion, and enforce the legal worship of it by law, nor compel men to worship God in any way manner contrary to their conscience.”
Congressman Huntington suggested:
"The amendment be made in such a way as to secure the rights of religion, but not to patronize those who professed no religion at all.”
Roger Sherman opposed the ratification of an amendment. He believed the federal government was not to any say in what was under the jurisdiction of the states.
Madison realized that Congressman Benjamin Huntington:
“…apprehended the meaning of the words to be, that Congress should not establish a religion and enforce the legal observation of it by law, nor compel men to worship God in any manner contrary to their conscience.”
Madison agreed with Congressmen Huntington and Sylvester and responded:
“…believes that the people feared one sect might obtain a preeminence, or two (Congregational and Anglican) combine and establish a religion to which they would compel others to conform.”
On August 15, 1789, Samuel Livermore of New Hampshire proposed the following wording of the proposed amendment:
“Congress shall make no laws touching religion, or infringing the rights of conscience.”
The House agreed and accepted the first five words of his version.
Fisher Ames of Massachusetts, on August 20, 1789, introduced the language:
“Congress shall make no law establishing religion, or to prevent the free exercise thereof, or to infringe the rights of conscience.”The House accepted the proposal and delivered it to the Senate for discussion and debate. The Senate proposed several versions in succession on September 3, 1789.
"Congress shall not make any law infringing the rights of conscience, or establishing any religious sect or society.”
“Congress shall make no law establishing any particular denomination or religion in preference to another, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, nor shall the rights of conscience be infringed.”
“Congress shall make no law establishing one religious society in preference to others, or to infringe on the rights of conscience.”
On September 3, 1789, the Senate finally accepted this version at the close of the day:
“Congress shall make no law establishing religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
The Senate agreed on the subsequent version on September 9, 1789.
“Congress shall make no law establishing articles of faith or a mode of worship, or prohibiting the free exercise of religion.”
The proposal was sent to a joint committee of the Senate and House to reconcile differences.
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
On December 15, 1791, The Bill of Rights was ratified by the states. This was a declaration of what the federal government was forbidden to do; leaving the individual states free within each of their state constitutions.
“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 of the right of the people to peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”