First there was the U.S. Constitution. The states followed suit, or so you’d think. However, the state constitution preambles show that some of the founders’ lofty ideals, like separation of church and state, were not exactly followed.
(2-18-2019) How do the state constitutions differ from the U.S. Constitution? It begins with the preamble. A constitution preamble states the reasons and purpose of the law; it’s generally combined with the enacting clause, which states the source of its authority. It’s usually a variation of “We the people of … do establish this Constitution.”
This is the preamble to the U.S. Constitution:
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
Not a peep about God or religion, as it should be in the constitution of a country that prides itself on its freedom of religion, which can only be upheld with a separation of church and state. Most state constitution preambles are a very different kettle of fish, though.
New Hampshire and Vermont don’t have preambles. I don’t know if they couldn’t agree on including God in a preamble, and they therefore decided not to have one, or if they just didn’t feel the need for one in general and religion was never part of their discussion on the matter. Either way, their state constitution preambles don’t start with an invocation to God.
The Virginia Constitution preamble doesn’t mention God:
A DECLARATION OF RIGHTS made by the good people of Virginia in the exercise of their sovereign powers, which rights do pertain to them and their posterity, as the basis and foundation of government.
Neither does the Oregon Constitution preamble:
We the people of the State of Oregon to the end that Justice be established, order maintained, and liberty perpetuated, do ordain this Constitution.
The longest by far is the Tennessee Constitution preamble; it’s worth reading just to appreciate the skill it took to craft such a ridiculously long sentence. It doesn’t mention gratitude to the Almighty, but it does state “the year of our Lord” a lot. As in: “… on the sixth day of February in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and ninety six…” Nevertheless, I’ll count it as one that takes the separation of church and state to heart.
The other 47 state constitution preambles include: …invoking the blessings of Almighty God…; …invoking the guidance of Almighty God…; …invoking the favor and guidance of Almighty God…; …being grateful to God…; …grateful to Almighty God…; …grateful for Divine Guidance…; …grateful to the Supreme Ruler of the Universe…; …grateful to Almighty God, the Sovereign Ruler of Nations…; …acknowledging with gratitude the good providence of God…; …acknowledging with grateful hearts the goodness of the Sovereign Ruler of the Universe…; …acknowledging, with grateful hearts, the goodness of the great Legislator of the universe…; …with profound reverence for the Supreme Ruler of the Universe…; …through Divine goodness…; …relying upon the protection and guidance of Almighty God…
And last but not least, perhaps to make up for Virginia’s lack of religiosity, behold the West Virginia Constitution preamble:
…since through Divine Providence we enjoy the blessings of civil, political and religious liberty, we, the people of West Virginia, in and through the provisions of this Constitution, reaffirm our faith in and constant reliance upon God…
The next post will be about religion in the state Bills of Rights. Stay tuned — It gets interesting. The separation of church and state is non-existent in some cases.
- Ballotpedia. https://ballotpedia.org
- Dealey, James Quayle. “Our State Constitutions.” The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, vol. 29, 1907, pp. 1–98. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/1010544.
- North, Gary. “The Original, Forgotten Preamble to the Constitution” The Tenth Amendment Center, June 28, 2016,
Header image: mine