The Constitutional Principle: Separation of Church and State
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The Northwest Ordinance cannot be read as a commentary on the First Amendment

Accommodationists make much of the fact that the Northwest Ordinance was reenacted by the same Congress that finalized the language of the First Amendment. Indeed, accommodationists seem to read the Northwest Ordinance almost as a commentary on the First Amendment, as if one could get some sense of the meaning of the Amendment by looking at the Ordinance. But this is to flatly distort history. Here are two reasons why the Northwest Ordinance cannot be used to make inferences about the framer's beliefs about church/state relationships:

Primary research by Jim Allison. Writing based on that research by Tom Peters. Originally published on the Separation of Church and State Home Page.


The Northwest Ordinance was passed before the First Amendment was ever discussed by Congress.


The Northwest Ordinance was not written by the framers.