First Amendment:
Freedom of Religion
The First Amendment states that: “Congress
shall make no law
1. respecting an establishment of religion,
2. or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;…”
We will look at each of these clauses of the First
Amendment, the controversy and power struggles
surrounding them and the way the Courts have
interpreted and applied them.
Religious Liberty Prior to 1791
• Colonial Practices
– Churches supported with taxes
– Voting rights tied to church membership
– Required to go to church on Sunday
• Declaration of Independence included a provision for
religious freedom
• Constitution: Article IV states that “no religious test
shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or
public trust under the United States.”
• Many believed, however, there was not enough
protection for religious freedom
Drafting the First Amendment
• They asked, “Should
we establish a religion
or not?”
• Thomas Jefferson
wrote that there
should be “a wall of
separation between
church and state.”
The Establishment Clause
• The Establishment Clause of
the First Amendment
guarantees that the
government will not create
and/or support an official
state religion.
• Forbids the government from creating
an official church
• Forbids the government from
supporting one religion over another
• Forbids the government from
supporting religion over non-religion
Separationists vs. Accomodationists
How high should the wall
between church and state
Separationists argue that
a high “wall” should exist
between the church and
contend that the state
should not be separate
from religion but rather
should accommodate it,
without showing
Lemon v. Kurtzman
In 1971, the Court ruled that New
• In 1980, this Lemon
York state could not use state
funds to pay parochial school
Test was used to
teachers’ salaries.
invalidate a
• To be Constitutional the
Kentucky law that
challenged law must
required the posting
1. Have a secular purpose
of the Ten
2. Neither advance nor inhibit
Commandments in
public school
3. Not foster excessive government
entanglement with religion.
The Free Exercise Clause
• "Congress shall make no law.....prohibiting the free
exercise thereof (religion)" is designed to prevent the
government from interfering with the practice of
• This freedom is not absolute. (Belief is protected; action
can be regulated)
• Several religious practices have been ruled
unconstitutional including:
– Denying medical treatment to a child
– use of illegal drugs
– Polygamy
• Nonetheless, the Court has made it clear that the
government must remain NEUTRAL toward religion.