Judd W. Patton, Ph.D. (Biography) Bellevue University Online
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The Northwest Ordinance and Nebraska's Constitution

by
Dr. Judd W. Patton

The Northwest Ordinance was passed by the Congress of the Confederation on July 13, 1787.  It provided for the government of the territories northwest of the Ohio river. It also set the pattern for admission of States into the Union. Nebraska’s state constitution (1866 and amended in 1871) “borrowed” and paraphrased a small portion from the Northwest Ordinance. Notice a comparison from each document on “good government.”

The third article of the Northwest ordinance states (in part): Religion, morality and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.”

Nebraska’s constitution, Article 1, Section 4 states (in part): Religion, morality, and knowledge, being essential to good government, it shall be the duty of the Legislature to pass suitable laws...to encourage schools and the means of instruction.”

Interesting!  Obviously the framers of the Nebraska constitution did not believe in the idea of a secular state.  Moreover, and most significantly, they did not believe that teaching religion and morality were contrary to the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights in the Constitution. I wonder why the Supreme Court back in the 19th century didn’t declare this section of Nebraska’s constitution unconstitutional? Interesting question!

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