The first amendment prohibited the federal government from making any laws "respecting" the establishment of religion (either for it or against it). Its intent was not to derogate from religion, but to signal its intense importance to the American people. Over the next 175 years or so, as new states entered the Union, the people of all but one of the states (Oregon) took care to give their belief in God prominence of place in the preambles of their state constitutions. Many of the preambles seem almost like opening prayers set before the text of the constitution of a free republic. They "invoke," "recall," "acknowledge with gratitude," and express "reverence." The reason for this appears to be that most Americans believe that liberty is a gift of God, and therefore that their opportunity to erect a republic is also a gift of God. Here is how the state constitutions read:

Alabama , 1901: "We, the people of the State of Alabama, in order to establish justice, insure tranquility, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, invoking the favor and guidance of Almighty God, do ordain and establish the following Constitution."

Alaska , 1956: "We, the people of Alaska, grateful to God and to those who founded our nation and pioneered this great land, in order to secure and transmit to succeeding generations our heritage of political, civil, and religious liberty within the Union of States, do ordain and establish this constitution for the State of Alaska."

Arizona , 1911: "We the people of the State of Arizona, grateful to Almighty God for our liberties, do ordain this Constitution."

Arkansas , 1874: "We the people of the State of Arkansas, grateful to Almighty God for the privilege of choosing our own form of government; for our civil and religious liberty; and desiring to perpetuate its blessings; and secure the same to our selves and posterity; do ordain and establish this Constitution."

California , 1879: "We, the People of the State of California, grateful to Almighty God for our freedom, in order to secure and perpetuate its blessings, do establish this Constitution."

Colorado , 1876: "We, the people of Colorado, with profound reverence for the Supreme Ruler of the Universe, in order to form a more independent and perfect government; establish justice, insure tranquility; provide for the common defense; promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for ‘the State of Colorado.’"

Connecticut , 1818: "The People of Connecticut, acknowledging with gratitude the good Providence of God in permitting them to enjoy the blessings of liberty, free government, do, in order more effectually to define, secure, and perpetuate the liberties, rights, and privileges which they have derived from their ancestors, hereby, after a careful consideration and revision, ordain and establish the following constitution and form of civil government."

Delaware , 1897: "Through Divine Goodness all men have, by nature, the rights of worshiping and serving their Creator according to the dictates of their consciences."

Florida , 1885: "We, the people of the state of Florida, grateful to Almighty God for our constitutional liberty, establish this Constitution . . . "

Georgia , 1777: "We the people of Georgia, relying upon the protection and guidance of Almighty God, do ordain and establish this Constitution."

Hawaii , 1949: "We, the people of Hawaii, grateful for Divine Guidance, and mindful of our Hawaiian heritage and uniqueness as an island state, dedicate our efforts to fulfill the philosophy decreed by our state motto: ‘Ua mau ke ea o ka aina i ka pono.’"

Idaho , 1890: "We, the people of the State of Idaho, grateful to Almighty God for our freedom, to secure its blessings and promote our common welfare, do establish this Constitution"

Illinois , 1870: "We the people of the State of Illinois, grateful to Almighty God for the civil, political and religious liberty which he hath so long permitted us to enjoy and looking to Him for a blessing on our endeavors . . . do ordain and establish this Constitution for the State of Illinois."

Indiana , 1851: "WE, the people of the State of Indiana, grateful to ALMIGHTY GOD for the free exercise of the right to choose our form of government, do ordain this constitution."

Iowa , 1857: "We the People of the State of Iowa, grateful to the Supreme Being for the blessings hitherto enjoyed, and feeling our dependence on Him for a continuation of these blessings establish this Constitution."

Kansas , 1859: "We, the people of Kansas, grateful to Almighty God for our civil and religious privileges establish this Constitution."

Kentucky , 1891: "We, the people of the Commonwealth, grateful to Almighty God for the civil, political, and religious liberties we enjoy, and invoking the continuance of these blessings, do ordain and establish this Constitution."

Louisiana , 1921: "We, the people of the State of Louisiana, grateful to Almighty God for the civil, political, and religious liberties we enjoy, and desiring to protect individual rights to life, liberty, and property . . . do ordain and establish this constitution."

Maine , 1820: "We the People of Maine acknowledging with grateful hearts the goodness of the Sovereign Ruler of the Universe in affording us an opportunity, so favorable to the design; and, imploring God’s aid and direction in its accomplishment, do agree to form ourselves into a free and independent State . . . "

Maryland , 1867: "We the people of the State of Maryland, grateful to Almighty God for our civil and religious liberty, and taking into our serious consideration the best means of establishing a good Constitution in this State for the sure foundation and more permanent security thereof, declare . . . "

Massachusetts , 1780: "We, therefore, the people of Massachusetts, acknowledging, with grateful hearts, the goodness of the great Legislator of the universe, in affording us, in the course of His providence, an opportunity, deliberately and peaceably, without fraud, violence or surprise, of entering into an original, explicit, and solemn compact with each other; and of forming a new constitution of civil government, for ourselves and posterity; and devoutly imploring His direction in so interesting a design, do agree upon, ordain and establish the following Declaration of Rights, and Frame of Government , as the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts."

Michigan , 1963: "We, the people of the State of Michigan, grateful to Almighty God for the blessings of freedom, and earnestly desiring to secure these blessings undiminished to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this constitution."

Minnesota , 1857: "We, the people of the State of Minnesota, grateful to God for our civil and religious liberty, and desiring to perpetuate its blessings and secure the same to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution."

Mississippi , 1890: "We, the people of Mississippi in convention assembled, grateful to Almighty God, and invoking His blessing on our work, do ordain and establish this Constitution."

Missouri , 1875: "We, the people of Missouri, with profound reverence for the Supreme Ruler of the Universe, and grateful for His goodness, do establish this Constitution for the better government of the State."

Montana , 1889: "We the people of Montana, grateful to Almighty God for the blessings of liberty, in order to secure the advantages of a State government, do, in accordance with the provisions of the Enabling Act of Congress, approved the twenty-second of February A.D. 1889, ordain and establish this constitution."

Nebraska , 1875: "We, the people, grateful to Almighty God for our freedom, do ordain and establish the following declaration of rights and frame of government, as the Constitution of the State of Nebraska."

Nevada , 1864: "We the people of the State of Nevada Grateful to Almighty God for our freedom in order to secure its blessings, insure domestic tranquility, and form a more perfect Government, do establish this Constitution."

New Jersey , 1844: "We, the people of the State of New Jersey, grateful to Almighty God for the civil and religious liberty which He hath so permitted us to enjoy, and looking to Him for a blessing upon our endeavors to secure and transmit the same unimpaired to succeeding generations, do ordain and establish this constitution."

New Mexico , 1911: "We, the people of New Mexico, grateful to Almighty God for the blessings of liberty, in order to secure the advantages of a state government, do ordain and establish this Constitution."

New York , 1846: "WE, THE PEOPLE of the State of New York, grateful to Almighty God for our freedom, in order to secure its blessings, DO ESTABLISH THIS CONSTITUTION."

North Carolina , 1868: "We, the people of the State of North Carolina, grateful to Almighty God, the Sovereign Ruler of Nations, for the preservation of the American Union and the existence of our civil, political and religious liberties, and acknowledging our dependence upon Him for the continuance of those blessings to us and our posterity, do, for the more certain security thereof and for the better government of this State, ordain and establish this Constitution."

North Dakota , 1889: "We, the people of North Dakota, grateful to Almighty God for the blessings of civil and religious liberty, do ordain and establish this constitution."

Ohio , 1851: "We, the people of the State of Ohio, grateful to Almighty God for our freedom, to secure its blessings and promote our common welfare, do establish this Constitution."

Oklahoma , 1907: "Invoking the guidance of Almighty God, in order to secure and perpetuate the blessing of liberty; to secure just and rightful government; to promote our mutual welfare and happiness, we, the people of the State of Oklahoma, do ordain and establish this Constitution."

Oregon : Religious language is not found in the preamble, but Article I, Section 2 of the State Bill of Rights asserts that "All men shall be secure in the Natural right, to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own consciences."

Pennsylvania , 1874: "WE, the people of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, grateful to Almighty God for the blessings of civil and religious liberty, and humbly invoking His guidance, do ordain and establish this Constitution."

Rhode Island , 1843: "We, the people of the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, grateful to Almighty God for the civil and religious liberty which He hath so long permitted us to enjoy, and looking to Him for a blessing upon our endeavors to secure and to transmit the same unimpaired to succeeding generations, do ordain and establish this Constitution of government."

South Carolina ,1895: "We, the people of the State of South Carolina, in Convention assembled, grateful to God for our liberties, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the preservation and perpetuation of the same."

South Dakota , 1889: "We, the people of South Dakota, grateful to Almighty God for our civil and religious liberties, in order to form a more perfect and independent government, establish justice, insure tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and preserve to ourselves and to our posterity the blessings of liberty, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the State of South Dakota."

Tennessee , Section 3, 1870: "All men have a natural and indefeasible right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own conscience."

Texas , 1845: "We, the people of the republic of Texas, acknowledging with gratitude the grace and beneficence of God, in permitting us to make a choice of our form of government, do, in accordance with the provisions of the joint resolution for annexing Texas to the United States, approved March first, one thousand eight hundred and forty-five, ordain and establish this constitution."

Utah : "Grateful to Almighty God for life and liberty, we, the people of Utah, in order to secure and perpetuate the principles of free government, do ordain and establish this CONSTITUTION."

Vermont , 1777: "Whereas, all government ought to be instituted and supported for the security and protection of the community as such and to enable the individuals who compose it, to enjoy their natural rights, and the other blessings which the Author of existence has bestowed upon man ; and whenever those great ends of government are not obtained, the people have a right, by common consent, to change it, and take such measures as to them may appear necessary to promote their safety and happiness."

Virginia , Section 16, 1776: "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."

Washington , 1889: "We the People of the State of Washington, grateful to the Supreme Ruler of the Universe for our liberties, do ordain this Constitution."

West Virginia , 1862: "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 and seek diligently to promote, preserve and perpetuate good government in the state of West Virginia for the common welfare, freedom and security of ourselves and our posterity."

Wisconsin , 1848: "We, the people of Wisconsin, grateful to Almighty God for our freedom, in order to secure its blessings, form a more perfect government, insure domestic tranquility and promote the general welfare, do establish this constitution."

Wyoming , 1890: "We, the people of the State of Wyoming, grateful to God for our civil, political and religious liberties, and desiring to secure them to ourselves and perpetuate them to our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution."

(Click here to email the authors about this item. Michael Novak holds the George Frederick Jewett Chair in Religion and Public Policy at the American Enterprise Institute, and is a member of the editorial board of F IRST T HINGS . Ashley Elizabeth Morrow is a graduate student of religion, culture, and public life at Harvard University.)

Articles by The team of Michael Novak and

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