Freedom of Religion, Speech, Press, Assembly and Petition. Passed by Congress September 25, 1789. Ratified December 15, 1791.
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.
Madison’s original proposal for a bill of rights provision concerning religion read:
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 pretence, infringed.1The language was altered in the House to read:
Congress shall make no law establishing religion, or to prevent the free exercise thereof, or to infringe the rights of conscience.2 In the Senate, the section adopted read:
Congress shall make no law establishing articles of faith, or a mode of worship, or prohibiting the free exercise of religion. . . .3 It was in the conference committee of the two bodies, chaired by Madison, that the present language was written with its somewhat more indefinite
respecting phraseology.4 Debate in Congress lends little assistance in interpreting the religion clauses; Madison’s position, as well as that of Jefferson, who influenced him, is fairly clear,5 but the intent, insofar as there was one, of the others in Congress who voted for the language and those in the states who voted to ratify is subject to speculation.