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The Northwest Ordinance of 1787
Christianity in American Education

"Religion [and] morality [are] necessary for good government
and the happiness of mankind"


Maybe you've seen the article that should go here. Send us the link Or send us the book or journal article and we'll plagiarize it like all our other pages.

Here's what it says:

  • The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 is considered part of America's "Organic Law."
  • It requires Christianity to be taught by the newly-admitted states in their schools.
  • Language from the Ordinance is found in state constitutions for 100 years
  • This Ordinance single handedly refutes the myth of "separation of church and state."
    • That myth holds that the government cannot "endorse" religion over non-religion.
    • This Ordinance unmistakably does so.
    • The myth says schools are no place for religion
    • This Ordinance unmistakably says schools are necessary to teach religion.

Click here to read
The Northwest Ordinance
The Avalon Project at Yale Law School


The modern myth of "separation of church and state" says that our nation must be secular, and must never convey the impression that religion is more valuable than irreligion. The recent Supreme Court case on prayer before football games put it this way:

School sponsorship of a religious message is impermissible because it sends the ancillary message to members of the audience who are nonadherants [sic] “that they are outsiders, not full members of the political community, and an accompanying message to adherants [sic] that they are insiders, favored members of the political community.” The delivery of such a message–over the school’s public address system, by a speaker representing the student body, under the supervision of school faculty, and pursuant to a school policy that explicitly and implicitly encourages public prayer – is not properly characterized as “private” speech.

But the Founding Fathers continually sponsored religious messages, continually giving atheists the impression that they were less valuable than religious people. The very same Congress that passed the First Amendment passed the Northwest Ordinance, which required

Art. 3. Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.

This is a clear endorsement of the value of religion in our society, beginning in schools.

Until you send us this article, readers of this page will have to be content with the following dialogue on American OnLine's "Separation of Church and State" Discussion Board.

Subject: Re: Intentional distortion?
To: Separation of Church & State
Date: 5/20/00

In article <20000520003717.15833.00000285@ng-fl1.aol.com>, edarr1776@aol.com (EDarr1776) writes:

>Kevin said:  >> (2) "Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good 
>government and the happiness 
>of mankind, . . . shall forever be encouraged."
>(Northwest Ordinance, 1787, Art. III).
>Those ellipses warn us that, in such a short passage, important words have
>been cut out.  The way Kevin cites it, it sounds as though Congress was
>encouraging religion (though no specific religion).

There is nothing that can be added to this quote that would make it acceptable to the ACLU. It clearly advances "religion" over non-religion and belief over unbelief, in stark violation of the myth of "separation" as invented by the Everson Court. It says religion is "necessary" for good government and the happiness of mankind. This makes unbelievers feel "left out" and relegates them to a "second class" status, in stark violation of the myth of separation as preached by the Court in Allegheny v. ACLU. No matter what you add to this quote, it still shows that "separation of church and state" was never a part of our "organic law."

>But here's how it REALLY reads: "Art. 3. Religion, morality, and knowledge,
>being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and
>the means of education shall forever be encouraged. 

Well fancy THAT! It's not enough that our organic law says that religion is necessary for good government and the happiness of mankind. But WHERE is religion to be advanced and inculcated? IN SCHOOLS!! The very place the Soopreme Court has been so anxious to rid of all Christian values! Gee, Ed -- thanks for pointing out that our nation's fundamental law requires SCHOOLS to teach RELIGION AND MORALITY!!!

>So instead of endorsing religion, Congress endorsed education.

False. Congress CLEARLY endorses religion. It declares religion to be NECESSARY to good government and the happiness of mankind. What greater "endorsement" could one imagine?  What words should Congress have used if they wanted to endorse religion???

>There is a difference there, and one wonders why Kevin felt compelled to try
>to change the meaning of what the founders had to say.

I was setting a trap. Thanks for getting snagged.

> (Dont' take my word for it -- go read it for yourself:   
The Avalon Project : Northwest Ordinance; July 13, 1787 )

And don't forget to listen to legal scholars who know more than Ed does about what our organic law means, and sets it firmly in the context of American history. See footnote 9 of Justice Douglas' concurring opinion in Engel v. Vitale, 370 US 421 at 443, the case which removed prayer from public schools. He declares:

Religion was once deemed to be a function of the public school system. The Northwest Ordinance, which antedated the First Amendment, provided in Article III that Religion, morality, and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.

The "Separation of church and state" is a myth.

Kevin C.
And they shall beat their swords into plowshares
and sit under their Vine & Fig Tree.
Micah 4:1-7

Subject: Northwest Ordinance required Religion in Public Schools
To: Separation of Church & State
Date: 1/18/99

Religion was once deemed to be a function of the public school system.
The Northwest Ordinance of 1787, which antedated the First Amendment, and continued in effect for at least 100 years, provided in Article III that

"Religion, morality, and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged."

EDarr1776 has said that the NW Ordinance does not require religion in the public schools. I find his exegesis of this text to be tortured. Ed has never provided any evidence from any authority that the Ordinance was NOT understood to required the teaching of religion in the public schools. Just his say-so.

For evidence of my interpretation, see footnote 9 of Justice Douglas' concurring opinion in Engel v. Vitale, 370 US 421 at 443, the case which removed prayer from public schools. He admits:

Religion was once deemed to be a function of the public school system. The Northwest Ordinance, which antedated the First Amendment, provided in Article III that "Religion, morality, and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged."

Ed might reply that prayer and Bible reading in the schools violates the "establishment clause" of the First Amendment. But that Amendment was never interpreted that way until the 1947 Everson case.

Justice Douglas supported removing religion from schools, but admits that

At the same time I cannot say that to authorize this prayer is to establish a religion in the strictly historic meaning of those words. The Court analogizes the present case to those involving the traditional Established Church. We once had an Established Church, the Anglican. All baptisms and marriages had to take place there. That church was supported by taxation. In these and other ways the Anglican Church was favored over the others. The First Amendment put an end to placing any one church in a preferred position. It ended support of any church or all churches by taxation. It went further and prevented secular sanction to any religious ceremony, dogma, or rite. Thus, it prevents civil penalties from being applied against recalcitrants or nonconformists. A religion is not established in the usual sense merely by letting those who choose to do so say the prayer that the public school teacher leads.
(at 442 and note 7)

(Actually, the First Amendment did not "put an end to" this. It had been ended years before by the states. The First Amendment guaranteed that the federal government would not undo what the states had already done.)

Many state constitutions, drafted as late as 1875, contain the Northwest Ordinance's exact words, because they became a part of this Christian nation under Congressional Enabling Acts passed under the Northwest Ordinance.
Thus until at least 1875, and arguably until 1961, religion in the public schools was not thought to be unconstitutional, when "religion" is understood in a non-sectarian way (that is, when Christianity is taught without promoting Anglicanism and denouncing Presbyterianism).

The removal of prayer from the public schools by the Supreme Court in 1961 was a clearly a violation of the Original Intent of the Founding Fathers in their Constitution.

Subject: Re: Ordinance of 1785
To: Separation of Church & State
Date: 5/14/99

In article <19990512220148.03405.00000812@ng-ci1.aol.com>, edarr1776@aol.com (EDarr1776) writes:

>While the authorship of the Northwest Ordinance is legion, Commager and
>Cantor note that "fundamentally, of course, the Ordinance followed
>Jefferson's Ordinance of 1784."
>Jefferson once again shows himself the true American Renaissance man.
Ed's post on the Northwest Ordinance is largely irrelevant. He asks for evidence that religion was taught in schools, which I have previously posted, but the Ordinance speaks for itself. Religion, morality and knowledge are necessary for good government, so SCHOOLS shall be built to ensure good government. What evidence is there that said schools would ONLY teach "knowledge" divorced from religion and morality? The very idea was unthinkable by all who had a hand in the drafting and ratifying of the Ordinance.

With the possible exception, of course, of Jefferson. And Ed brings Jefferson in to try to insinuate that the "real" meaning of the Ordinance was secular. But this will not do. No one questions the influence of Jefferson, as no one questions his influence on the Declaration of Independence. But Jefferson was out of step with the rest of the nation. And when Congress adopted the language of Jefferson's land ordinance and his draft of the Declaration of Independence, they were thankful for Jefferson's contribution, but went on to make the drafts appropriate for a Christian nation.

In his original draft of the Declaration of Independence, Jefferson had written:

And for the support of this declaration, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.

But Congress amended it to read:

And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor.

Ed correctly quotes the language of the 1789 Ordinance:

Religion, morality and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.

Face it, Ed. The men who wrote this Ordinance did not think the way you think. They did not think the way you would like to think they thought. They thought religion and morality were necessary to good government. You think religion and government should be kept "separate." Most Americans today agree with the Founders, and disagree with you and the ACLU. (The problem with most of these Americans, however, is that they are also self-centered and apathetic.)

Whatever Jefferson may have believed about religion and morality, this Ordinance does not reflect his views.

The goal (the "end") of the Ordinance is good government. 
The means to the end is religion and morality and knowledge.
The tool for all three of these is "schools and the means of education."

Nobody in America (with the possible exception of Jefferson) believed that education could be stripped of religion and morality and still be effective education. Even if Jefferson believed this, he was overruled by the elected representatives of a Christian nation.

Subject: Re: Stupid Secularisms #245 -- Collect them All!
To: Separation of Church & State
Date: 5/14/99

The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 stated that

Religion, morality and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.

Ed shows that when schools remove religion and morality, they end up removing knowledge as well.

In article <19990512015854.20661.00000760@ng-fx1.aol.com>, edarr1776@aol.com (EDarr1776) writes:

>Kevin said, in error: >>Thus,
>the Northwest Ordinance made it a matter of policy
>to teach "religion and morality" in schools. 
>The Northwest Ordinance made it a policy to teach reading. Policy was to
>encourage education, because educated people could read the Bible or any
>other book, and become more moral for being educated. Education is essential
>to morality, the law said.

Work on your reading skills, Ed. The Ordinance says religion is necessary for good government. It does not say Education is necessary for morality. That's true, of course, but not what the law says. The law says religion and morality are necessary for good government. The law says there should not be and can never be a "separation" of religion and state. I know it hurts, Ed, but come to grips with it.

>Education was essential to religion. So the law
>encouraged education.

Read it again, Ed. It simply doesn't say "education was essential to religion." It says religion is essential to government:

Religion, morality and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.

EVEN IF the Northwest Ordinance said "education is essential to religion, so let's build schools," that would be a law designed to advance religion, which would prove that the so-called Lemon test was not intended by the Framers.

>"Religion and morality" were not taught. That wasn't the policy.

That was the policy, and the policy was put into effect. In the authoritative reference work, A Cultural History of Education, R. Freeman Butts, a teacher of teachers at the Teachers College of Columbia University notes that,

Stemming from the great influence that organized religion played in the establishment and control of American education, the ideal of character development through religion was still a dominant aim in the nineteenth century. Bulwarked by the religious . . . traditions, "moral training" remained closely identified through much of the century with the ideals of Christian character and was often considered impossible apart from specific religious training. As the secular movement gained headway, character development continued to be emphasized as a function of the public schools despite the absence of sectarian religious instruction. This aim was influential at all levels from elementary schools though the liberal arts college.
(1947, ed., p. 498)

Remember the evidence I cited from Butts and Cremin that men like Horace Mann, who were leaders in eliminating "sectarian" education from schools, and are often cited as part of the "secular movement," were adamant that they were not trying to eliminate the Bible from public schools, only the distinctives of denominational ecclesiocracies. Religion and morality were inseparably linked and pervaded public schools.

Butts notes that in the nineteenth century,

American culture revealed the interplay of several major factors, the religious tradition, Humanism, democracy, nationalism, capitalism, science, industrialism, and a new psychology.

The US Constitution did not intend to remove the Bible and prayer from schools. It didn't accomplish that goal. Even as America began to apostasize, rejecting God and going a-whoring after the gods of industrialism, capitalism, materialism, and Humanism, religion and morality were still the bedrock of all public school curricula. The syncretism and metamorphosis of America the Christian nation into America the materialist patriotic warmonger nation was not mandated by the Constitution. That was a sociological, not a legal, phenomenon. More and more people are rejecting patriotism and industrial fascism and urging us to return to the Spiritual values and "faith of our fathers."

Ed apparently prefers materialism, industrial fascism and the DOOM-induced killings of Littleton Colo, to the "religion, morality and knowledge" of the Northwest Ordinance and all of 19th century public education

Subject: Re: Humanism as Religion
To: Separation of Church/State?
Date: 5/23/99

In article <19990520015909.10952.00002482@ng31.aol.com>, edarr1776@aol.com (EDarr1776) writes:

>I said: >Schools were places
>>of education, not religion.
>Kevin said: >>The Northwest Ordinance of 1789 directed schools to be places
>"Religion, morality, and knowledge.">>>
>On the continuum of whole truths to whole lies, that's close enough to a
>whole lie as to be indistinguishable. The Northwest Ordinance, in Article I,
>guarantees religious freedom to all.

Here we go again. "Religious freedom" being pitted against the requirement to be a Christian nation. It was Christians who demanded guarantees of "religious freedom" to keep the federal government from interfering in the religious establishments of the states, not to legalize polygamy or impose atheism on students.

>In Article three, it says that religion
>and morality are important, and SO education is to be encouraged.

More specifically, it says religion and morality are essential to good government, and SO SCHOOLS are to be encouraged, because that's where religion and morality are to be taught.

>The Northwest Ordinance didn't direct schools to do or be anything at all.

I would say that anyone looking at Article III would conclude that "religion, morality and knowledge" are to be taught in the schools. Can you post any evidence of any kind that religion and morality were NOT to be taught in the schools required by Article III?

ART. 3. Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.

Inaugural Address.

Messages and Papers of the Presidents, John Adams, vol. 1, p.221 - p.222

On this subject it might become me better to be silent or to speak with diffidence; but as something may be expected, the occasion, I hope, will be admitted as an apology if I venture to say that

  • if a preference, upon principle, of a free republican government, formed upon long and serious reflection, after a diligent and impartial inquiry after truth;
  • if an attachment to the Constitution of the United States, and a conscientious determination to support it until it shall be altered by the judgments and wishes of the people, expressed in the mode prescribed in it;
  • if a respectful attention to the constitutions of the individual States and a constant caution and delicacy toward the State governments;
  • if an equal and impartial regard to the rights, interest, honor, and happiness of all the States in the Union, without preference or regard to a northern or southern, an eastern or western, position, their various political opinions on unessential points or their personal attachments;
  • if a love of virtuous men of all parties and denominations;
  • if a love of science and letters and a wish to patronize every rational effort to encourage schools, colleges, universities, academies, and every institution for propagating knowledge, virtue, and religion among all classes of the people, not only for their benign influence on the happiness of life in all its stages and classes, and of society in all its forms, but as the only means of preserving our Constitution from its natural enemies, the spirit of sophistry, the spirit of party, the spirit of intrigue, the profligacy of corruption, and the pestilence of foreign influence, which is the angel of destruction to elective governments;
  • if a love of equal laws, of justice, and humanity in the interior administration;
  • if an inclination to improve agriculture, commerce, and manufactures for necessity, convenience, and defense;
  • if a spirit of equity and humanity toward the aboriginal nations of America, and a disposition to meliorate their condition by inclining them to be more friendly to us, and our citizens to be more friendly to them;
  • if an inflexible determination to maintain peace and inviolable faith with all nations, and that system of neutrality and impartiality among the belligerent powers of Europe which has been adopted by this Government and so solemnly sanctioned by both Houses of Congress and applauded by the legislatures of the States and the public opinion, until it shall be otherwise ordained by Congress;
  • if a personal esteem for the French nation, formed in a residence of seven years chiefly among them, and a sincere desire to preserve the friendship which has been so much for the honor and interest of both nations;
  • if, while the conscious honor and integrity of the people of America and the internal sentiment of their own power and energies must be preserved, an earnest endeavor to investigate every just cause and remove every colorable pretense of complaint;
  • if an intention to pursue by amicable negotiation a reparation for the injuries that have been committed on the commerce of our fellow-citizens by whatever nation, and if success can not be obtained, to lay the facts before the Legislature, that they may consider what further measures the honor and interest of the Government and its constituents demand;
  • if a resolution to do justice as far as may depend upon me, at all times and to all nations, and maintain peace, friendship, and benevolence with all the world;
  • if an unshaken confidence in the honor, spirit, and resources of the American people, on which I have so often hazarded my all and never been deceived;
  • if elevated ideas of the high destinies of this country and of my own duties toward it, rounded on a knowledge of the moral principles and intellectual improvements of the people deeply engraven on my mind in early life, and not obscured but exalted by experience and age;
  • and, with humble reverence, I feel it to be my duty to add, if a veneration for the religion of a people who profess and call themselves Christians, and a fixed resolution to consider a decent respect for Christianity among the best recommendations for the public service, can enable me in any degree to comply with your wishes,

it shall be my strenuous endeavor that this sagacious injunction of the two Houses shall not be without effect.

The settlement of the Northwest Territories was undertaken in the belief that Christianity is the foundation of free societies and just governments.

Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Vol.1, p. 311-12

I have known of societies formed by the Americans to send out ministers of the Gospel into the new Western States to found schools and churches there, lest religion should be suffered to die away in those remote settlements, and the rising States be less fitted to enjoy free institutions than the people from which they emanated. I met with wealthy New Englanders who abandoned the country in which they were born in order to lay the foundations of Christianity and of freedom on the banks of the Missouri, or in the prairies of Illinois. Thus religious zeal is perpetually stimulated in the United States by the duties of patriotism. These men do not act from an exclusive consideration of the promises of a future life; eternity is only one motive of their devotion to the cause; and if you converse with these missionaries of Christian civilization, you will be surprised to find how much value they set upon the goods of this world, and that you meet with a politician where you expected to find a priest. They will tell you that "all the American republics are collectively involved with each other; if the republics of the West were to fall into anarchy, or to be mastered by a despot, the republican institutions which now flourish upon the shores of the Atlantic Ocean would be in great peril. It is, therefore, our interest that the new States should be religious, in order to maintain our liberties."

Such are the opinions of the Americans, and if any hold that the religious spirit which I admire is the very thing most amiss in America, and that the only element wanting to the freedom and happiness of the human race is to believe in some blind cosmogony, or to assert with Cabanis the secretion of thought by the brain, I can only reply that those who hold this language have never been in America, and that they have never seen a religious or a free nation. When they return from their expedition, we shall hear what they have to say.

Separationists still have not returned from their expedition.

Continued in Part 2

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