Bill of Rights Day

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December 15th is Bill of Rights Day, commemorating the day in 1791 when three-quarters of the States ratified the Bill of Rights (the first Ten Amendments).

George Mason was "The Father of the Bill of Rights." He was an Anti-Federalist who wrote the Virginia Declaration of Rights on June 12, 1776. One month later the Declaration of Independence improved on some of the ideas in the Virginia Declaration of Rights. Later Mason also drafted the first state Constitution for Virginia, which it adopted on June 29, 1779. Mason objected to the ratification of the Constitution because it lack specific limits on the new power of the federal government.

In response to the Constitution, in 1788 drafted "Master Draft of the Bill of Rights," which suggested 20 amendments to limit federal power. This led to the Bill of Rights.

George Mason's original version of the Establishment Clause shows that it was directed against preference of one religious denomination over another:

"20. That Religion or the Duty which we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by Reason and Conviction, not by Force or violence, and therefore all men have an equal, natural, and unalienable Right to the free Exercise of Religion according to the Dictates of Conscience, and that no particular religious Sect or Society of Christians ought to be favored or established by Law in preference to others."

Justice Story, then a congressman who introduced the First Amendment, echoed this interpretation:

"CH. XLIV, 727, Section 1868: Probably, at the time of the adoption of the Constitution, and of the Amendment to it now under consideration, the general, if not the universal, sentiment in America was, that Christianity ought to receive encouragement from the State so far as was not incompatible with the private rights of conscience and the freedom of religious worship. An attempt to level all religions, and to make it a matter of state policy to hold all in utter indifference, would have created universal disapprobation, if not universal indignation.

"CH. XLIV, 728, Section 1871: The real object of the First Amendment was not to countenance, much less to advance Mohammedanism, or Judaism, or infidelity, by prostrating Christianity, but to exclude all rivalry among Christian sects..."

At the time of ratification of the Constitution, domination by one religious sect over another was an issue. For example, the Anglicans were the dominant force in Virginia and the Congregationalists dominated in Connecticut.

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