The Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom DBQ

Lesson Plan

Title:  The Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom DBQ
Descriptive Subtitle:

Students will explore primary sources to gain a full understanding of the context, content, and lasting impact of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom.
Grade level: High 11, 12

Author Information:

Name: Charity Fisher
Email: [email protected]
School: Fairfax High School
School Address (opt): 3501 Rebel Run
City: Fairfax
State: Va

Duration: 60-180 minutes, depending on assessment selection

Overview: Students will evaluate primary source documents and then construct a 5 paragraph essay on the topic. If time is an issue, students will analyze the documents, and then the group will share the evidence in discussion, rather than essay.

Prior knowledge: Students need no prior knowledge to begin this lesson. The DBQ is intended to teach the entire standard.


USVA History

VUS.1          The student will demonstrate skills for historical and geographical analysis and responsible citizenship, including the ability to

  1. a) identify, analyze, and interpret primary and secondary source documents, records, and data, including artifacts, diaries, letters, photographs, journals, newspapers, historical accounts, and art, to increase understanding of events and life in the United States;
  2. b) evaluate the authenticity, authority, and credibility of sources;
  3. c) formulate historical questions and defend findings, based on inquiry and interpretation;
  4. d) develop perspectives of time and place, including the construction of maps and various timelines of events, periods, and personalities in American history;
  5. e) communicate findings orally and in analytical essays or comprehensive papers;
  6. f) develop skills in discussion, debate, and persuasive writing with respect to enduring issues and determine how divergent viewpoints have been addressed and reconciled;
  7. h) interpret the significance of excerpts from famous speeches and other documents;

VUS.5          The student will demonstrate knowledge of the issues involved in the creation and ratification of the Constitution of the United States and how the principles of limited government, consent of the governed, and the social contract are embodied in it by

  1. c) examining the significance of the Virginia Declaration of Rights and the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom in the framing of the Bill of Rights;

USVA Government

GOVT.1       The student will demonstrate mastery of the social studies skills responsible citizenship requires, including the ability to

  1. a) analyze primary and secondary source documents;
  2. b) create and interpret maps, diagrams, tables, charts, graphs, and spreadsheets;
  3. e) evaluate information for accuracy, separating fact from opinion;
  4. f) identify a problem, weigh the expected costs and benefits and possible consequences of proposed solutions, and recommend solutions, using a decision-making model;
  5. g) select and defend positions in writing, discussion, and debate.

GOVT.2       The student will demonstrate knowledge of the political philosophies that shaped the development of Virginia and United States constitutional government by

  1. f) examining George Mason’s Virginia Declaration of Rights, Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, and James Madison’s leadership role in securing adoption of the Bill of Rights by the First Congress.


Students will understand why there was a need for a religious freedom statute, the basic goals of the statute, and the lasting impact of the statute.

Students will be able to… interpret primary source documents, analyze and evaluate the primary source materials, and be able to use primary source evidence to support essay writing.

Students will know how to evaluate the statute and its lasting impact.

Steps:  Provide teachers or students with instructions for completing the lesson or challenge, giving step by step directions. Indicate the time needed for each step.

  1. Teacher will introduce the DBQ essay using the hook on Jefferson and their personal epitaphs.
  2. Students will read the background essay as a class
  3. The teacher will put students into 10 different groups and pass out the primary source analysis DBQ sheet. Students will then analyze 1 of the 10 primary sources in the group and discuss the document. Once all groups have analyzed their specific document, each group will share their document and what they found.
  4. After listing 3 categories on the board (reasons for the statute, content of the statute, and lasting impact), give each group a sticky and ask them to write their document number and place it in one of the sticky notes on the board. Allow the students to put their document into more than one category if they can justify it.
  5. Next place the debate question at each table group. Allow the students to argue and debate their response in the small group setting. The question is “Do you believe that Jefferson’s Virginia Statue for Religious Freedom has protected or inhibited religious freedom today? If time, bring the small group discussion to the entire class.
  6. Formative/Summative Assessment

Option 1 (short reflection)

Using the knowledge that you have gained from this DBQ, explain what the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom means to you today. Student answers should reflect an understanding of the Statute.

Option 2 Essay

Using the attached rubric, have students break the documents into the 3 organizational categories, and have students write the 5 paragraph DBQ essay.

Materials:  DBQ package with hook, background essay, and primary source materials.

Assessment(s): If teachers select option 1, this would be formative assessment. If teachers select option 2 this would be considered summative as it would provide an in-depth understanding of student comprehension of the material.

Assessment Criteria (rubric, checklist, etc.): Two rubrics are provided for option 1 and option 2

Accommodations: ELL and IEP Accommodations: Allow the hook exercise to be done in a group of 2 or 3 students. For primary source analysis, cut down the number of sources to one per organizational category (3 documents) and complete the analysis as a class. The teacher can add their additional insight from having looked at the sources prior. Instead of the free response or essay assessments, complete the essay orally as a class. For the essay, ask the students to write the introduction only and then paragraph of their choice.