The Constitutional Principle: Separation of Church and State
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The Northwest Ordinance had no constitutional authority

As we have seen, the Northwest Ordinance is not a good basis upon which to launch an attack on the broad interpretation of the First Amendment.

Research by Jim Allison. Writing by Jim Allison and Tom Peters


Even beyond that, we argue that the accommodationist reverence for the Northwest Ordinance is misplaced; the Ordinance was not legal when it was passed by the Continental Congress. Moreover, it's legal status remained ambiguous throughout it's history. Hence, the Ordinance is itself proof that the founders of our nation passed laws that were unconstitutional!

Was the Northwest Ordinance ever a valid law? The answer might surprise a lot of people. On July 13, 1787, the document that has come to be known as the Northwest Ordinance was passed by the 18 members of the Continental Congress, meeting in NYC. (The other members of that Congress were in Philadelphia meeting at the Constitutional Convention.)

Before that date, resolutions proposed on April 23, 1784, but never passed into law, had governed how the new territories were laid out. With the passing and signing of the proposed Ordinance, those 1784 resolutions were made null and void. The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 took their place.

The Ordinance and the Continental Congress:

The Northwest Ordinance and the Constitution: