Virginia Declaration of Rights, 1776


June 12, 1776

George Mason, a neighbor of George Washington, signer of the Declaration of Independence, and participant in the Constitutional Convention, drafted this bill of rights on June 12, 1776. It was adopted with slight changes by the Virginia Convention and proved influential on Jefferson in the drafting of the Declaration of Independence and in the later discussions regarding the First Amendment.

Virginia is one of two states (the other being Rhode Island) to offer complete religious freedom to its citizens. Virginia’s constitution and its leaders led the way in modeling the freedoms in the federal Bill of Rights.

Lewis Roca Rothgerber Christie Religious Institutions Group

A declaration of rights made by the representatives of the good people of Virginia, assembled in full and free convention; which rights do pertain to them and their posterity, as the basis and foundation of government.

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XV. That no free government, or the blessings of liberty, can be preserved to any people, but by a firm adherence to justice, moderation, temperance, frugality, and virtue, and by frequent recurrence of fundamental principles.

XVI. 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 are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience; and that it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity towards each other.

Source: The Federal and State Constitutions, Colonial Charters, and Other Organic Laws of the United States 1908-09 (Ben Berley Poore ed., 2d ed. 1878).