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Freedom of Religion

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  • Some came to the Americas for religious freedom, but
  • 12 of the colonies used taxes for or in other ways supported a religion

Religion mentioned once in body of the Constitution

  • No religious test as a qualification for office

1st Amendment

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”

Establishment Clause

  • Two views of this clause
    • There should be a wall of separation between church and state
      • Implies no aid to religion
    • There should be no preference for any religion
      • Implies government need not be hostile to religion
  • Government is involved in religion
    • Inscription on coins
    • Pledge of Allegiance
    • Prayers in Congress
  • The issue is how much involvement is OK? The test imposed by the Supreme Court:
    • Government involvement should have non-religious purpose
    • The primary effect should be to neither advance or inhibit religion
    • There should be no “excessive entanglement"
  • Specific examples
    • Property tax exemptions for property owned by churches
    • Fire and police protection provided without cost
    • Released time in schools for education--LDS seminary
    • Religious displays on public property
      • This is a controversial issue
      • Some have suggested there is a "three plastic reindeer" test, meaning that religious
      • displays must include those of different beliefs or non-religious representations
    • Prayer in schools
      • Set prayers--prohibited
      • Period of silence--not a completely settled issue
      • Graduation prayers--not allowed in high schools
    • Religious music in schools--the Rachael Bachman experience

Free Exercise Clause

  • Beliefs--no constraints by government
  • Actions--may be constrained by government
    • Polygamy is an important example
      • Mormons practiced polygamy after coming to Utah in 1847
      • Morrill Act (1862)--made polygamy illegal
      • Reynolds vs. U.S. (1878)--Supreme Court case which upheld the Morrill Act
  • Edmunds-Tucker Act (1887)--passed because Mormons continued to practice polygamy
    • Legally dissolved the church
    • Took church property
    • Repealed right of women to vote
  • Idaho: Belief in Mormon principles use as a test to determine eligibility to vote
  • Current test for government involvement: Constrain actions only if a "Compelling interest"
  • Specific examples
    • Conscientious objectors
      • Must belong to a church which objects to military service or demonstrate long term belief
      • May be required to provide alternative service, such as working in a hospital
    • Use of illegal drugs such as peyote--not allowed by the courts
    • Sabbath Day
      • Working on Sabbath--employers not required to give employees Sundays off
      • Sunday closing laws--upheld by courts
    • Schooling to age 16--Amish allowed to remove their children prior to age 16
    • Saluting the flag--Jehovah's Witness children not required to participate in school
Copyright 2008, by the Contributing Authors. Cite/attribute Resource . factpetersen. (2007, October 29). Freedom of Religion. Retrieved January 08, 2011, from Free Online Course Materials — USU OpenCourseWare Web site: This work is licensed under a Creative Commons License Creative Commons License