Northwest Ordinance, July 13, 1787


July 13, 1787

The Northwest Ordinance is one of the fundamental documents in the history of American religious freedom. This is so primarily because it ensured religious liberty in all states later carved out of the original Northwest Territory: Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Wisconsin and much of Minnesota. When these new states wished to be admitted to the Union, their constitutions had to meet the approval of Congress. All states desiring admittance to the Union who were within the scope of the Northwest Ordinance could have nothing in their constitutions that was repugnant to the Ordinance. This included guarantees of religious freedom, as found in Article III of the Northwest Ordinance.

Lewis Roca Rothgerber Christie Religious Institutions Group

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Article III.

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 utmost good faith shall always be observed towards the Indians; their lands and property shall never be taken from them without their consent; and, in their property, rights, and liberty, they shall never be invaded or disturbed, unless in just and lawful wars authorized by Congress; but laws founded in justice and humanity, shall from time to time be made for preventing wrongs being done to them, and for preserving peace and friendship with them.

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Be it ordained by the authority aforesaid, That the resolutions of the 23rd of April, 1784, relative to the subject of this ordinance, be, and the same are hereby repealed and declared null and void.

Source: 1 Stat. 50 (1789).