History Podcasts

Freedom of Religion in the U.S.

Freedom of Religion in the U.S.

We are searching data for your request:

Forums and discussions:
Manuals and reference books:
Data from registers:
Wait the end of the search in all databases.
Upon completion, a link will appear to access the found materials.

Freedom of Religious Expression

Freedom of religious expression is a key to understanding early American history. Although recent twisting of history declares that America was founded on a basic principle of “freedom from religion,” historic reality is that America was founded on the right of religious expression known as “freedom of religion.” A quick history lesson will reveal that there is no concept of “freedom FROM religion” in our Constitution, nor is one implied. Our founders quoted thousands of Bible scriptures, opened and closed sessions with prayer to God, and openly stated that they used the Ten Commandments in writing the laws of this great nation. Actually, our founders were standing on government lands while they read directly from the Bible, quoted scripture in speeches, and stood praying together.

If the United States was founded on a principle of “freedom from religion,” would our founders have practiced their religion so openly on government lands? There are more than 4,500 recorded, public quotes by our Founding Fathers about the Bible, God, and yes, the importance of ethics based on Christian principles. All of these statements were delivered while government leaders stood on government properties.

There is absolute historic precedent that the founders of the United States of America and the writers of the U.S. Constitution never believed in “freedom from religion,” nor a silencing of free speech concerning things of a religious nature while on government lands. This is a recent concept – a recent twisting of history that started in the early 1960’s when the U.S. courts started redefining our moral compass as a nation. The notion of “separation of church and state” was popularized at that time, and hundreds of higher court cases removing Judeo-Christian principles from the public arena have followed since.

History is clear. Judeo-Christian ethics are at the foundation of the United States of America. Morality was never seen as relative — it was always based on Natural Law and the authority of Scripture. As hard as it is for some to accept in this 21st century pop-techno-culture, this country and its moral backbone were founded on biblical principles and the freedom of religious expression.

Freedom of Religious Expression is Part of America’s Landmarks and Institutions

Freedom of religious expression in public places is well established in the United States:

– God is mentioned in stone all over Washington D.C. on its monuments and buildings.
– Emblazoned over the Speaker of the House in the U.S. Capitol are the words “In God We Trust.”
– The Supreme Court building built in the 1930’s has carvings of Moses and the Ten Commandments.
– Oaths in courtrooms have invoked God from the beginning.
– Every president that has given an inaugural address has mentioned God in that speech.
– Prayers have been said at the swearing in of each president.
– Each president was sworn in on the Bible, saying the words, “So help me God.”
– Our national anthem mentions God.
– The liberty bell has a Bible verse engraved on it.
– Our nation’s birth certificate, the Declaration of Independence, mentions God four times.
– The original constitutions of all 50 states mention God.
– Chaplains have been on the public payroll from the very beginning.
– In fact, the Bible was used as the first textbook in our public schools.

These symbols mean something. Freedom of religious expression is a core concept in American history.

Freedom of Religion in the U.S. - HISTORY

Due to the First Amendment, which grants freedom of religion, there is a diversity of religious beliefs and practices in the U.S.

Learning Objectives

Discuss the relationship between religion and government in the United States

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The First Amendment specifically denies the Federal Government the power to enact any law respecting either an establishment of religion or prohibiting its free exercise, thus protecting any religious organization, institution, or denomination from government interference.
  • European Rationalist and Protestant ideals influenced the development of separation between state and religious affairs.
  • The majority of Americans (76% to 80%) identify themselves as Protestants or Catholics, accounting for 51% and 25% of the population respectively.

Key Terms

  • First Amendment: The First Amendment (Amendment I) to the United States Constitution is part of the Bill of Rights. The amendment prohibits the making of any law respecting an establishment of religion, impeding the free exercise of religion, abridging the freedom of speech, infringing on the freedom of the press, interfering with the right to peaceably assemble or prohibiting the petitioning for a governmental redress of grievances.
  • Religious Organization: Religious activities generally need some infrastructure to be conducted. For this reason, there generally exist religion-supporting organizations, which are some form of organization that manage the upkeep of places of worship, e.g., mosques, prayer rooms, other similar edifices or meeting places, and the payment of salaries to priests, ministers, or religious leaders. In addition, such organizations usually have other responsibilities, such as the formation, nomination, or appointment of religious leaders the establishment of a corpus of doctrine the disciplining of priests or other people with respect to religious law and the determination of qualification for membership.
  • creed: That which is believed accepted doctrine, especially religious a particular set of beliefs any summary of principles or opinions professed or adhered to.

Religion in the United States is characterized by both a diversity of religious beliefs and practices, and by a high adherence level. A wide variety of religious choices have been available to the U.S. population due to the First Amendment of the Constitution, which allows freedom of religion.

Separation of Church and State in the United States

The framers of the Constitution modeled the provisions concerning religion within the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom and rejected any religious test for office. The First Amendment specifically denies the Federal Government the power to enact any law respecting either an establishment of religion or prohibiting its free exercise. This amendment protects any religious organization, institution, or denomination from government interference. The decision was mainly influenced by European Rationalist and Protestant ideals, but was also a consequence of the pragmatic concerns of minority religious groups and small states that did not want to be under the power or influence of a national religion that did not represent their beliefs.

Robert N. Bellah has argued that although the separation of church and state is grounded firmly in the Constitution of the United States, this does not mean that there is no religious dimension in the political society of the United States. He used the term “civil religion” to describe the specific relation between politics and religion in the United States. His 1967 article, “Civil religion in America,” analyzes the inaugural speech of John F. Kennedy: “Considering the separation of church and state, how is a president justified in using the word ‘God’ at all? The answer is that the separation of church and state has not denied the political realm a religious dimension. ”

Robert S. Wood has argued that the United States is a model for the world in terms of how a separation of church and state—no state-run or state-established church—is good for both the church and the state, allowing a variety of religions to flourish. Speaking at the Toronto-based Center for New Religions, Wood said that the freedom of conscience and assembly allowed under such a system has led to a “remarkable religiosity” in the United States that isn’t present in other industrialized nations. Wood believes that the United States operates on “a sort of civic religion,” which includes a generally shared belief in a creator who “expects better of us.” Beyond that, individuals are free to decide how they want to believe and fill in their own creeds and express their conscience. He calls this approach the “genius of religious sentiment in the United States. ”

Religious Affiliation in the United States

The majority of Americans (76% to 80%) identify themselves as Protestants or Catholics, accounting for 51% and 25% of the population respectively, according to one survey by Trinity College. Non-Christian religions (including Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc.) collectively make up about 5% of the adult population. Another 15% of the adult population claims no religious affiliation. When asked, about 5.2% said they did not know or refused to reply. According to the American Religious Identification Survey, religious belief varies considerably by region. The lowest rate is in the West, with 59% reporting a belief in God, and the highest rate is in the South (the “Bible Belt”) at 86%.

Islamic Center: Islamic Center of Washington located at 2551 Massachusetts Avenue NW in Washington, D.C.


Historically, freedom of religion has been used to refer to the tolerance of different theological systems of belief, while freedom of worship has been defined as freedom of individual action. Each of these have existed to varying degrees. While many countries have accepted some form of religious freedom, this has also often been limited in practice through punitive taxation, repressive social legislation, and political disenfranchisement. Compare examples of individual freedom in Italy or the Muslim tradition of dhimmis, literally "protected individuals" professing an officially tolerated non-Muslim religion.

In Antiquity, a syncretic point of view often allowed communities of traders to operate under their own customs. When street mobs of separate quarters clashed in a Hellenistic or Roman city, the issue was generally perceived to be an infringement of community rights.

Cyrus the Great established the Achaemenid Empire ca. 550 BC, and initiated a general policy of permitting religious freedom throughout the empire, documenting this on the Cyrus Cylinder. [7] [8]

Some of the historical exceptions have been in regions where one of the revealed religions has been in a position of power: Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Christianity and Islam. Others have been where the established order has felt threatened, as shown in the trial of Socrates in 399 BC.

Freedom of religious worship was established in the Buddhist Maurya Empire of ancient India by Ashoka the Great in the 3rd century BC, which was encapsulated in the Edicts of Ashoka.

Greek–Jewish clashes at Cyrene in 73 AD and 117 AD and in Alexandria in 115 AD provide examples of cosmopolitan cities as scenes of tumult.

The Romans tolerated most religions, including Judaism and encouraged local subjects to continue worshipping their own gods. They did not however, tolerate Christianity until it was legalised by the Roman emperor Galerius in 311. The early Christian apologist Tertullian was the first-known writer referring to the term libertas religionis. [9] The Edict of Milan guaranteed freedom of religion in the Roman Empire until the Edict of Thessalonica in 380, which outlawed all religions except Christianity.

Genghis Khan was one of the first rulers who in 13th century enacted a law explicitly guaranteeing religious freedom to everyone and every religion. [10]

Muslim world Edit

Following a period of fighting lasting around a hundred years before 620 AD which mainly involved Arab and Jewish inhabitants of Medina (then known as Yathrib), religious freedom for Muslims, Jews and pagans was declared by Muhammad in the Constitution of Medina. In early Muslim history (until mid 11th century), most Islamic scholars maintained a level of separation from the state which helped to establish some elements of institutional religious freedom. The Islamic Caliphate later guaranteed religious freedom under the conditions that non-Muslim communities accept dhimmi status and their adult males pay the punitive jizya tax instead of the zakat paid by Muslim citizens. [11] Though Dhimmis were not given the same political rights as Muslims, they nevertheless did enjoy equality under the laws of property, contract, and obligation. [12] [13] [14]

Religious pluralism existed in classical Islamic ethics and Sharia, as the religious laws and courts of other religions, including Christianity, Judaism and Hinduism, were usually accommodated within the Islamic legal framework, as seen in the early Caliphate, Al-Andalus, Indian subcontinent, and the Ottoman Millet system. [15] [16] In medieval Islamic societies, the qadi (Islamic judges) usually could not interfere in the matters of non-Muslims unless the parties voluntarily choose to be judged according to Islamic law, thus the dhimmi communities living in Islamic states usually had their own laws independent from the Sharia law, such as the Jews who would have their own Halakha courts. [17]

Dhimmis were allowed to operate their own courts following their own legal systems in cases that did not involve other religious groups, or capital offences or threats to public order. [18] Non-Muslims were allowed to engage in religious practices that were usually forbidden by Islamic law, such as the consumption of alcohol and pork, as well as religious practices which Muslims found repugnant, such as the Zoroastrian practice of incestuous "self-marriage" where a man could marry his mother, sister or daughter. According to the famous Islamic legal scholar Ibn Qayyim (1292–1350), non-Muslims had the right to engage in such religious practices even if it offended Muslims, under the conditions that such cases not be presented to Islamic Sharia courts and that these religious minorities believed that the practice in question is permissible according to their religion. [19]

Despite Dhimmis enjoying special statuses under the Caliphates, they were not considered equals, and sporadic persecutions of non-Muslim groups did occur in the history of the Caliphates. [20] [21] [22]

India Edit

Ancient Jews fleeing from persecution in their homeland 2,500 years ago settled in India and never faced anti-Semitism. [23] Freedom of religion edicts have been found written during Ashoka the Great's reign in the 3rd century BC. Freedom to practise, preach and propagate any religion is a constitutional right in Modern India. Most major religious festivals of the main communities are included in the list of national holidays.

Although India is an 80% Hindu country, India is a secular state without any state religions.

Many scholars and intellectuals believe that India's predominant religion, Hinduism, has long been a most tolerant religion. [24] Rajni Kothari, founder of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies has written, "[India] is a country built on the foundations of a civilisation that is fundamentally non-religious." [25]

The Dalai Lama, the Tibetan leader in exile, said that religious tolerance of 'Aryabhoomi,' a reference to India found in the Mahabharata, has been in existence in this country from thousands of years. "Not only Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, Sikhism which are the native religions but also Christianity and Islam have flourished here. Religious tolerance is inherent in Indian tradition," the Dalai Lama said. [26]

Freedom of religion in the Indian subcontinent is exemplified by the reign of King Piyadasi (304–232 BC) (Ashoka). One of King Ashoka's main concerns was to reform governmental institutes and exercise moral principles in his attempt to create a just and humane society. Later he promoted the principles of Buddhism, and the creation of a just, understanding and fair society was held as an important principle for many ancient rulers of this time in the East.

The importance of freedom of worship in India was encapsulated in an inscription of Ashoka:

King Piyadasi (Ashok) dear to the Gods, honours all sects, the ascetics (hermits) or those who dwell at home, he honours them with charity and in other ways. But the King, dear to the Gods, attributes less importance to this charity and these honours than to the vow of seeing the reign of virtues, which constitutes the essential part of them. For all these virtues there is a common source, modesty of speech. That is to say, one must not exalt one's creed discrediting all others, nor must one degrade these others without legitimate reasons. One must, on the contrary, render to other creeds the honour befitting them.

On the main Asian continent, the Mongols were tolerant of religions. People could worship as they wished freely and openly.

After the arrival of Europeans, Christians in their zeal to convert local as per belief in conversion as service of God, have also been seen to fall into frivolous methods since their arrival, though by and large there are hardly any reports of law and order disturbance from mobs with Christian beliefs, except perhaps in the north eastern region of India. [27]

Freedom of religion in contemporary India is a fundamental right guaranteed under Article 25 of the nation's constitution. Accordingly, every citizen of India has a right to profess, practice and propagate their religions peacefully. [28]

In September 2010, the Indian state of Kerala's State Election Commissioner announced that "Religious heads cannot issue calls to vote for members of a particular community or to defeat the nonbelievers". [29] The Catholic Church comprising Latin, Syro-Malabar and Syro-Malankara rites used to give clear directions to the faithful on exercising their franchise during elections through pastoral letters issued by bishops or council of bishops. The pastoral letter issued by Kerala Catholic Bishops' Council (KCBC) on the eve of the poll urged the faithful to shun atheists. [29]

Even today, most Indians celebrate all religious festivals with equal enthusiasm and respect. Hindu festivals like Deepavali and Holi, Muslim festivals like Eid al-Fitr, Eid-Ul-Adha, Muharram, Christian festivals like Christmas and other festivals like Buddha Purnima, Mahavir Jayanti, Gur Purab etc. are celebrated and enjoyed by all Indians.

Europe Edit

Religious intolerance Edit

Most Roman Catholic kingdoms kept a tight rein on religious expression throughout the Middle Ages. Jews were alternately tolerated and persecuted, the most notable examples of the latter being the expulsion of all Jews from Spain in 1492. Some of those who remained and converted were tried as heretics in the Inquisition for allegedly practicing Judaism in secret. Despite the persecution of Jews, they were the most tolerated non-Catholic faith in Europe.

However, the latter was in part a reaction to the growing movement that became the Reformation. As early as 1380, John Wycliffe in England denied transubstantiation and began his translation of the Bible into English. He was condemned in a Papal Bull in 1410, and all his books were burned.

In 1414, Jan Hus, a Bohemian preacher of reformation, was given a safe conduct by the Holy Roman Emperor to attend the Council of Constance. Not entirely trusting in his safety, he made his will before he left. His forebodings proved accurate, and he was burned at the stake on 6 July 1415. The Council also decreed that Wycliffe's remains be disinterred and cast out. This decree was not carried out until 1429.

After the fall of the city of Granada, Spain, in 1492, the Muslim population was promised religious freedom by the Treaty of Granada, but that promise was short-lived. In 1501, Granada's Muslims were given an ultimatum to either convert to Christianity or to emigrate. The majority converted, but only superficially, continuing to dress and speak as they had before and to secretly practice Islam. The Moriscos (converts to Christianity) were ultimately expelled from Spain between 1609 (Castile) and 1614 (rest of Spain), by Philip III.

Martin Luther published his famous 95 Theses in Wittenberg on 31 October 1517. His major aim was theological, summed up in the three basic dogmas of Protestantism:

  • The Bible only is infallible.
  • Every Christian can interpret it.
  • Human sins are so wrongful that no deed or merit, only God's grace, can lead to salvation.

In consequence, Luther hoped to stop the sale of indulgences and to reform the Church from within. In 1521, he was given the chance to recant at the Diet of Worms before Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor. After he refused to recant, he was declared heretic. Partly for his own protection, he was sequestered on the Wartburg in the possessions of Frederick III, Elector of Saxony, where he translated the New Testament into German. He was excommunicated by Papal Bull in 1521.

However, the movement continued to gain ground in his absence and spread to Switzerland. Huldrych Zwingli preached reform in Zürich from 1520 to 1523. He opposed the sale of indulgences, celibacy, pilgrimages, pictures, statues, relics, altars, and organs. This culminated in outright war between the Swiss cantons that accepted Protestantism and the Catholics. In 1531, the Catholics were victorious, and Zwingli was killed in battle. The Catholic cantons made peace with Zurich and Berne. [30]

The defiance of Papal authority proved contagious, and in 1533, when Henry VIII of England was excommunicated for his divorce and remarriage to Anne Boleyn, he promptly established a state church with bishops appointed by the crown. This was not without internal opposition, and Thomas More, who had been his Lord Chancellor, was executed in 1535 for opposition to Henry.

In 1535, the Swiss canton of Geneva became Protestant. In 1536, the Bernese imposed the reformation on the canton of Vaud by conquest. They sacked the cathedral in Lausanne and destroyed all its art and statuary. John Calvin, who had been active in Geneva was expelled in 1538 in a power struggle, but he was invited back in 1540.

The same kind of seesaw back and forth between Protestantism and Catholicism was evident in England when Mary I of England returned that country briefly to the Catholic fold in 1553 and persecuted Protestants. However, her half-sister, Elizabeth I of England was to restore the Church of England in 1558, this time permanently, and began to persecute Catholics again. The King James Bible commissioned by King James I of England and published in 1611 proved a landmark for Protestant worship, with official Catholic forms of worship being banned.

In France, although peace was made between Protestants and Catholics at the Peace of Saint-Germain-en-Laye in 1570, persecution continued, most notably in the Massacre of Saint Bartholomew's Day on 24 August 1572, in which thousands of Protestants throughout France were killed. A few years before, at the "Michelade" of Nîmes in 1567, Protestants had massacred the local Catholic clergy.

Early steps and attempts in the way of tolerance Edit

The Norman Kingdom of Sicily under Roger II was characterized by its multi-ethnic nature and religious tolerance. Normans, Jews, Muslim Arabs, Byzantine Greeks, Lombards, and native Sicilians lived in harmony. [31] [32] [ failed verification ] Rather than exterminate the Muslims of Sicily, Roger II's grandson Emperor Frederick II of Hohenstaufen (1215–1250) allowed them to settle on the mainland and build mosques. Not least, he enlisted them in his – Christian – army and even into his personal bodyguards. [33] [ need quotation to verify ] [34] [ need quotation to verify ]

Kingdom of Bohemia (present-day Czech Republic) enjoyed religious freedom between 1436 and 1620 as a result of the Bohemian Reformation, and became one of the most liberal countries of the Christian world during that period of time. The so-called Basel Compacts of 1436 declared the freedom of religion and peace between Catholics and Utraquists. In 1609 Emperor Rudolf II granted Bohemia greater religious liberty with his Letter of Majesty. The privileged position of the Catholic Church in the Czech kingdom was firmly established after the Battle of White Mountain in 1620. Gradually freedom of religion in Bohemian lands came to an end and Protestants fled or were expelled from the country. A devout Catholic, Emperor Ferdinand II forcibly converted Austrian and Bohemian Protestants. [35]

In the meantime, in Germany Philip Melanchthon drafted the Augsburg Confession as a common confession for the Lutherans and the free territories. It was presented to Charles V in 1530.

In the Holy Roman Empire, Charles V agreed to tolerate Lutheranism in 1555 at the Peace of Augsburg. Each state was to take the religion of its prince, but within those states, there was not necessarily religious tolerance. Citizens of other faiths could relocate to a more hospitable environment.

In France, from the 1550s, many attempts to reconcile Catholics and Protestants and to establish tolerance failed because the State was too weak to enforce them. It took the victory of prince Henry IV of France, who had converted into Protestantism, and his accession to the throne, to impose religious tolerance formalized in the Edict of Nantes in 1598. It would remain in force for over 80 years until its revocation in 1685 by Louis XIV of France. Intolerance remained the norm until Louis XVI, who signed the Edict of Versailles (1787), then the constitutional text of 24 December 1789, granting civilian rights to Protestants. The French Revolution then abolished state religion and the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen (1789) guarantees freedom of religion, as long as religious activities do not infringe on public order in ways detrimental to society.

Early laws and legal guarantees for religious freedom Edit

Eastern Hungarian Kingdom (Principality of Transylvania) Edit

In 1558, the Transylvanian Diet's Edict of Torda declared free practice of both Catholicism and Lutheranism. Calvinism, however, was prohibited. Calvinism was included among the accepted religions in 1564. Ten years after the first law, in 1568, the same Diet, under the chairmanship of King of Hungary, and Prince of Transylvania John Sigismund Zápolya (John II.), [36] following the teaching of Ferenc Dávid, [37] the founder of the Unitarian Church of Transylvania, [38] extended the freedom to all religions, declaring that "It is not allowed to anybody to intimidate anybody with captivity or expelling for his religion". However, it was more than a religious tolerance it declared the equality of the religions, prohibiting all kinds of acts from authorities or from simple people, which could harm other groups or people because of their religious beliefs. The emergence in social hierarchy wasn't dependent on the religion of the person thus Transylvania had also Catholic and Protestant monarchs, who all respected the Edict of Torda. The lack of state religion was unique for centuries in Europe. Therefore, the Edict of Torda is considered as the first legal guarantee of religious freedom in Christian Europe. [39]

Act of Religious Tolerance and Freedom of Conscience: His majesty, our Lord, in what manner he – together with his realm – legislated in the matter of religion at the previous Diets, in the same matter now, in this Diet, reaffirms that in every place the preachers shall preach and explain the Gospel each according to his understanding of it, and if the congregation like it, well. If not, no one shall compel them for their souls would not be satisfied, but they shall be permitted to keep a preacher whose teaching they approve. Therefore none of the superintendents or others shall abuse the preachers, no one shall be reviled for his religion by anyone, according to the previous statutes, and it is not permitted that anyone should threaten anyone else by imprisonment or by removal from his post for his teaching. For faith is the gift of God and this comes from hearing, which hearings is by the word of God.

Four religions (Catholicism, Lutheranism, Calvinism, Unitarianism) were named as accepted religions (religo recepta), having their representatives in the Transylvanian Diet, while the other religions, like the Orthodoxs, Sabbatarians and Anabaptists were tolerated churches (religio tolerata), which meant that they had no power in the law making and no veto rights in the Diet, but they were not persecuted in any way. Thanks to the Edict of Torda, from the last decades of the 16th Century Transylvania was the only place in Europe, where so many religions could live together in harmony and without persecution. [41]

This religious freedom ended however for some of the religions of Transylvania in 1638. After this year the Sabbatarians begun to be persecuted, and forced to convert to one of the accepted Christian religions of Transylvania. [42]

Habsburg rule in Transylvania Edit

Also the Unitarians (despite of being one of the "accepted religions") started to be put under an ever-growing pressure, which culminated after the Habsburg conquest of Transylvania (1691), [43] Also after the Habsburg occupation, the new Austrian masters forced in the middle of the 18th century the Hutterite Anabaptists (who found a safe heaven in 1621 in Transylvania, after the persecution to which they were subjected in the Austrian provinces and Moravia) to convert to Catholicism or to migrate in another country, which finally the Anabaptists did, leaving Transylvania and Hungary for Wallachia, than from there to Russia, and finally in the United States. [44]

Netherlands Edit

In the Union of Utrecht (20 January 1579), personal freedom of religion was declared in the struggle between the Northern Netherlands and Spain. The Union of Utrecht was an important step in the establishment of the Dutch Republic (from 1581 to 1795). Under Calvinist leadership, the Netherlands became the most tolerant country in Europe. It granted asylum to persecuted religious minorities, such as the Huguenots, the Dissenters, and the Jews who had been expelled from Spain and Portugal. [45] The establishment of a Jewish community in the Netherlands and New Amsterdam (present-day New York) during the Dutch Republic is an example of religious freedom. When New Amsterdam surrendered to the English in 1664, freedom of religion was guaranteed in the Articles of Capitulation. It benefitted also the Jews who had landed on Manhattan Island in 1654, fleeing Portuguese persecution in Brazil. During the 18th century, other Jewish communities were established at Newport, Rhode Island, Philadelphia, Charleston, Savannah, and Richmond. [46]

Intolerance of dissident forms of Protestantism also continued, as evidenced by the exodus of the Pilgrims, who sought refuge, first in the Netherlands, and ultimately in America, founding Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts in 1620. William Penn, the founder of Philadelphia, was involved in a case which had a profound effect upon future American laws and those of England. In a classic case of jury nullification, the jury refused to convict William Penn of preaching a Quaker sermon, which was illegal. Even though the jury was imprisoned for their acquittal, they stood by their decision and helped establish the freedom of religion. [47]

Poland Edit

The General Charter of Jewish Liberties known as the Statute of Kalisz was issued by the Duke of Greater Poland Boleslaus the Pious on 8 September 1264 in Kalisz. The statute served as the basis for the legal position of Jews in Poland and led to the creation of the Yiddish-speaking autonomous Jewish nation until 1795. The statute granted exclusive jurisdiction of Jewish courts over Jewish matters and established a separate tribunal for matters involving Christians and Jews. Additionally, it guaranteed personal liberties and safety for Jews including freedom of religion, travel, and trade. The statute was ratified by subsequent Polish Kings: Casimir III of Poland in 1334, Casimir IV of Poland in 1453 and Sigismund I of Poland in 1539. Poland freed Jews from direct royal authority, opening up enormous administrative and economic opportunities to them. [48]

Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth Edit

The right to worship freely was a basic right given to all inhabitants of the future Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth throughout the 15th and early 16th century, however, complete freedom of religion was officially recognized in 1573 during the Warsaw Confederation. Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth kept religious freedom laws during an era when religious persecution was an everyday occurrence in the rest of Europe. [49]

United States Edit

Most of the early colonies were generally not tolerant of dissident forms of worship, with Maryland being one of the exceptions. For example, Roger Williams found it necessary to found a new colony in Rhode Island to escape persecution in the theocratically dominated colony of Massachusetts. The Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony were the most active of the New England persecutors of Quakers, and the persecuting spirit was shared by Plymouth Colony and the colonies along the Connecticut river. [50] In 1660, one of the most notable victims of the religious intolerance was English Quaker Mary Dyer, who was hanged in Boston, Massachusetts for repeatedly defying a Puritan law banning Quakers from the colony. [50] As one of the four executed Quakers known as the Boston martyrs, the hanging of Dyer on the Boston gallows marked the beginning of the end of the Puritan theocracy and New England independence from English rule, and in 1661 King Charles II explicitly forbade Massachusetts from executing anyone for professing Quakerism. [51] Anti-Catholic sentiment appeared in New England with the first Pilgrim and Puritan settlers. [52] In 1647, Massachusetts passed a law prohibiting any Jesuit Roman Catholic priests from entering territory under Puritan jurisdiction. [53] Any suspected person who could not clear himself was to be banished from the colony a second offense carried a death penalty. [54] The Pilgrims of New England held radical Protestant disapproval of Christmas. [55] Christmas observance was outlawed in Boston in 1659. [56] The ban by the Puritans was revoked in 1681 by an English appointed governor, however it was not until the mid-19th century that celebrating Christmas became common in the Boston region. [57]

Freedom of religion was first applied as a principle of government in the founding of the colony of Maryland, founded by the Catholic Lord Baltimore, in 1634. [58] Fifteen years later (1649), the Maryland Toleration Act, drafted by Lord Baltimore, provided: "No person or persons. shall from henceforth be any waies troubled, molested or discountenanced for or in respect of his or her religion nor in the free exercise thereof." The Act allowed freedom of worship for all Trinitarian Christians in Maryland, but sentenced to death anyone who denied the divinity of Jesus. The Maryland Toleration Act was repealed during the Cromwellian Era with the assistance of Protestant assemblymen and a new law barring Catholics from openly practicing their religion was passed. [59] In 1657, the Catholic Lord Baltimore regained control after making a deal with the colony's Protestants, and in 1658 the Act was again passed by the colonial assembly. This time, it would last more than thirty years, until 1692 [60] when, after Maryland's Protestant Revolution of 1689, freedom of religion was again rescinded. [58] [61] In addition, in 1704, an Act was passed "to prevent the growth of Popery in this Province", preventing Catholics from holding political office. [61] Full religious toleration would not be restored in Maryland until the American Revolution, when Maryland's Charles Carroll of Carrollton signed the American Declaration of Independence.

Rhode Island (1636), Connecticut (1636), New Jersey, and Pennsylvania (1682) – founded by Protestants Roger Williams, Thomas Hooker, and William Penn, respectively – combined the democratic form of government which had been developed by the Puritans and the Separatist Congregationalists in Massachusetts with religious freedom. [62] [63] [64] [65] These colonies became sanctuaries for persecuted religious minorities. Catholics and later on Jews also had full citizenship and free exercise of their religions. [66] [67] [68] Williams, Hooker, Penn, and their friends were firmly convinced that freedom of conscience was the will of God. Williams gave the most profound argument: As faith is the free work of the Holy Spirit, it cannot be forced on a person. Therefore, strict separation of church and state has to be kept. [69] Pennsylvania was the only colony that retained unlimited religious freedom until the foundation of the United States in 1776. It was the inseparable connection between democracy, religious freedom, and the other forms of freedom which became the political and legal basis of the new nation. In particular, Baptists and Presbyterians demanded the disestablishment of state churches – Anglican and Congregationalist – and the protection of religious freedom. [70]

Reiterating Maryland's and the other colonies' earlier colonial legislation, the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, written in 1779 by Thomas Jefferson, proclaimed:

[N]o man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer, on account of his religious opinions or belief but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.

Those sentiments also found expression in the First Amendment of the national constitution, part of the United States' Bill of Rights: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. ". The acknowledgement of religious freedom as the first right protected in the Bill of Rights points toward the American founders' understanding of the importance of religion to human, social, and political flourishing. The First Amendment makes clear that it sought to protect "the free exercise" of religion, or what might be called "free exercise equality." [71]

The United States formally considers religious freedom in its foreign relations. The International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 established the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom which investigates the records of over 200 other nations with respect to religious freedom, and makes recommendations to submit nations with egregious records to ongoing scrutiny and possible economic sanctions. Many human rights organizations have urged the United States to be still more vigorous in imposing sanctions on countries that do not permit or tolerate religious freedom.

Canada Edit

Freedom of religion in Canada is a constitutionally protected right, allowing believers the freedom to assemble and worship without limitation or interference. Canadian law goes further, requiring that private citizens and companies provide reasonable accommodation to those, for example, with strong religious beliefs. The Canadian Human Rights Act allows an exception to reasonable accommodation with respect to religious dress, such as a Sikh turban, when there is a bona fide occupational requirement, such as a workplace requiring a hard hat. [72] In 2017 the Santo Daime Church Céu do Montréal received religious exemption to use Ayahuasca as a sacrament in their rituals. [73]

International Edit

On 25 November 1981, the United Nations General Assembly passed the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and of Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief. This declaration recognizes freedom of religion as a fundamental human right in accordance with several other instruments of international law. [74]

However, the most substantial binding legal instruments that guarantee the right to freedom of religion that was passed by the international community is the Convention on the Rights of the Child which states in its Article 14: "States Parties shall respect the right of the child to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. – States Parties shall respect the rights and duties of the parents and, when applicable, legal guardians, to provide direction to the child in the exercise of his or her right in a manner consistent with the evolving capacities of the child. – Freedom to manifest one's religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health or morals, or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others." [75]

Theistic, non-theistic and atheistic beliefs Edit

In 1993, the UN's human rights committee declared that article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights "protects theistic, non-theistic and atheistic beliefs, as well as the right not to profess any religion or belief." [76] The committee further stated that "the freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief necessarily entails the freedom to choose a religion or belief, including the right to replace one's current religion or belief with another or to adopt atheistic views." Signatories to the convention are barred from "the use of threat of physical force or penal sanctions to compel believers or non-believers" to recant their beliefs or convert. Despite this, minority religions still are persecuted in many parts of the world. [77] [78]

Secular liberalism Edit

The French philosopher Voltaire noted in his book on English society, Letters on the English, that freedom of religion in a diverse society was deeply important to maintaining peace in that country. That it was also important in understanding why England at that time was more prosperous in comparison to the country's less religiously tolerant European neighbours.

If one religion only were allowed in England, the Government would very possibly become arbitrary if there were but two, the people would cut one another’s throats but as there are such a multitude, they all live happy and in peace. [79]

Adam Smith, in his book The Wealth of Nations (using an argument first put forward by his friend and contemporary David Hume), states that in the long run it is in the best interests of society as a whole and the civil magistrate (government) in particular to allow people to freely choose their own religion, as it helps prevent civil unrest and reduces intolerance. So long as there are enough religions and/or religious sects operating freely in a society then they are all compelled to moderate their more controversial and violent teachings, so as to be more appealing to more people and so have an easier time attracting new converts. It is this free competition amongst religious sects for converts that ensures stability and tranquillity in the long run.

Smith also points out that laws that prevent religious freedom and seek to preserve the power and belief in a particular religion will, in the long run, only serve to weaken and corrupt that religion, as its leaders and preachers become complacent, disconnected and unpractised in their ability to seek and win over new converts: [80]

The interested and active zeal of religious teachers can be dangerous and troublesome only where there is either but one sect tolerated in the society, or where the whole of a large society is divided into two or three great sects the teachers of each acting by concert, and under a regular discipline and subordination. But that zeal must be altogether innocent, where the society is divided into two or three hundred, or, perhaps, into as many thousand small sects, of which no one could be considerable enough to disturb the public tranquillity. The teachers of each sect, seeing themselves surrounded on all sides with more adversaries than friends, would be obliged to learn that candour and moderation which are so seldom to be found among the teachers of those great sects. [81]

Hinduism Edit

Hinduism is one of the more broad-minded religions when it comes to religious freedom. [82] It respects the right of everyone to reach God in their own way. Hindus believe in different ways to preach attainment of God and religion as a philosophy and hence respect all religions as equal. One of the famous Hindu sayings about religion is: "Truth is one sages call it by different names." [82]

Judaism Edit

Judaism includes multiple streams, such as Orthodox, Reform Judaism, Conservative Judaism, Reconstructionist Judaism, Jewish Renewal and Humanistic Judaism. However, Judaism also exists in many forms as a civilization, possessing characteristics known as peoplehood, rather than strictly as a religion. [83] In the Torah, Jews are forbidden to practice idolatry and are commanded to root out pagan and idolatrous practices within their midst, including killing idolaters who sacrifice children to their gods, or engage in immoral activities. However, these laws are not adhered to anymore as Jews have usually lived among a multi-religious community.

After the conquest of the Kingdoms of Israel and Judea by the Roman Empire, a Jewish state did not exist until 1948 with the establishment of the State of Israel. For over 1500 years Jewish people lived under pagan, Christian, Muslim, etc. rule. As such Jewish people in some of these states faced persecution. From the pogroms in Europe during the Middle Ages to the establishment of segregated Jewish ghettos during World War II. In the Middle East, Jews were categorised as dhimmi, non- Muslims permitted to live within a Muslim state. Even though given rights within a Muslim state, a dhimmi is still not equal to a Muslim within Muslim society.

Possibly because of this history of long term persecution, Jews in modernity have been among the most active proponents of religious freedom in the US and abroad and have founded and supported anti-hate institutions, including the Anti-Defamation League, the Southern Poverty Law Center and the American Civil Liberties Union. Jews are very active in supporting Muslim and other religious groups in the US against discrimination and hate crimes and most Jewish congregations throughout the US and many individual Jews participate in interfaith community projects and programs.

The State of Israel was established for the Jewish diaspora after World War II. While the Israel Declaration of Independence stresses religious freedom as a fundamental principle, in practice the current [ timeframe? ] government, dominated by the ultra-Orthodox segment of the population has instituted legal barriers for those who do not practice Orthodox Judaism as Jews. However, as a nation state, Israel is very open towards other religions and religious practices, including public Muslim call to prayer chants and Christian prayer bells ringing in Jerusalem. Israel has been evaluated in research by the Pew organization as having "high" government restrictions on religion. The government recognizes only Orthodox Judaism in certain matters of personal status, and marriages can only be performed by religious authorities. The government provides the greatest funding to Orthodox Judaism, even though adherents represent a minority of citizens. [84] Jewish women, including Anat Hoffman, have been arrested at the Western Wall for praying and singing while wearing religious garments the Orthodox feel should be reserved for men. Women of the Wall have organized to promote religious freedom at the Wall. [85] In November 2014, a group of 60 non-Orthodox rabbinical students were told they would not be allowed to pray in the Knesset synagogue because it is reserved for Orthodox. Rabbi Joel Levy, director of the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem, said that he had submitted the request on behalf of the students and saw their shock when the request was denied. He noted: "paradoxically, this decision served as an appropriate end to our conversation about religion and state in Israel." MK Dov Lipman expressed the concern that many Knesset workers are unfamiliar with non-Orthodox and American practices and would view "an egalitarian service in the synagogue as an affront." [86] The non-Orthodox forms of Jewish practice function independently in Israel, except for these issues of praying at the Western Wall.

Christianity Edit

According to the Catholic Church in the Vatican II document on religious freedom, Dignitatis Humanae, "the human person has a right to religious freedom", which is described as "immunity from coercion in civil society". [87] This principle of religious freedom "leaves untouched traditional Catholic doctrine on the moral duty of men and societies toward the true religion." [87] In addition, this right "is to be recognized in the constitutional law whereby society is governed and thus it is to become a civil right." [87]

Prior to this, Pope Pius IX had written a document called the Syllabus of Errors. The Syllabus was made up of phrases and paraphrases from earlier papal documents, along with index references to them, and presented as a list of "condemned propositions". It does not explain why each particular proposition is wrong, but it cites earlier documents to which the reader can refer for the Pope's reasons for saying each proposition is false. Among the statements included in the Syllabus are: "[It is an error to say that] Every man is free to embrace and profess that religion which, guided by the light of reason, he shall consider true" (15) "[It is an error to say that] In the present day it is no longer expedient that the Catholic religion should be held as the only religion of the State, to the exclusion of all other forms of worship" "[It is an error to say that] Hence it has been wisely decided by law, in some Catholic countries, that persons coming to reside therein shall enjoy the public exercise of their own peculiar worship". [88]

Some Orthodox Christians, especially those living in democratic countries, support religious freedom for all, as evidenced by the position of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. Many Protestant Christian churches, including some Baptists, Churches of Christ, Seventh-day Adventist Church and main line churches have a commitment to religious freedoms. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints also affirms religious freedom. [89]

However others, such as African scholar Makau Mutua, have argued that Christian insistence on the propagation of their faith to native cultures as an element of religious freedom has resulted in a corresponding denial of religious freedom to native traditions and led to their destruction. As he states in the book produced by the Oslo Coalition on Freedom of Religion or Belief, "Imperial religions have necessarily violated individual conscience and the communal expressions of Africans and their communities by subverting African religions." [90] [91]

In their book Breaking India, Rajiv Malhotra and Aravindan Neelakandan discussed the "US Protestant Church" funding activities in India, with the book arguing that the funds collected were being used not so much for the purposes indicated to sponsors, but for indoctrination and conversion activities. They suggest that India is the prime target of a huge enterprise – a "network" of organizations, individuals, and churches – that, they argue, seem intensely devoted to the task of creating a separatist identity, history, and even religion for the vulnerable sections of India. They suggest that this nexus of players includes not only church groups, government bodies, and related organizations, but also private think tanks and academics. [92]

Joel Spring has written about the Christianization of the Roman Empire:

Christianity added new impetus to the expansion of empire. Increasing the arrogance of the imperial project, Christians insisted that the Gospels and the Church were the only valid sources of religious beliefs. Imperialists could claim that they were both civilizing the world and spreading the true religion. By the 5th century, Christianity was thought of as co-extensive with the Imperium romanum. This meant that to be human, as opposed to being a natural slave, was to be "civilized" and Christian. Historian Anthony Pagden argues, "just as the civitas had now become coterminous with Christianity, so to be human – to be, that is, one who was 'civil', and who was able to interpret correctly the law of nature – one had now also to be Christian." After the fifteenth century, most Western colonialists rationalized the spread of empire with the belief that they were saving a barbaric and pagan world by spreading Christian civilization. [93]

Islam Edit

Conversion to Islam is simple, but Muslims are forbidden to convert from Islam to another religion. Certain Muslim-majority countries are known for their restrictions on religious freedom, highly favoring Muslim citizens over non-Muslim citizens. Other countries [ who? ] having the same restrictive laws tend to be more liberal when imposing them. Even other Muslim-majority countries are secular and thus do not regulate religious belief. [94] [ failed verification ]

Islamic theologians [ who? ] quote the Qur'an ("There is no compulsion in religion" [2:256] and "Say: O you who reject faith, I do not worship what you worship, nor do you worship what I worship. To you be your religion, and to me be mine" [109:1–6] , i.e., Sura Al-Kafirun) to show scriptural support for religious freedom.

Quran 2:190–194, referring to the war against Pagans during the Battle of Badr in Medina, indicates that Muslims are only allowed to fight against those who intend to harm them (right of self-defense) and that if their enemies surrender, they must also stop because God does not like those who transgress limits.

In Bukhari:V9 N316, Jabir ibn 'Abdullah narrated that a Bedouin accepted Islam and then when he got a fever he demanded that Muhammad to cancel his pledge (allow him to renounce Islam). Muhammad refused to do so. The Bedouin man repeated his demand once, but Muhammad once again refused. Then, he (the Bedouin) left Medina. Muhammad said, "Madinah is like a pair of bellows (furnace): it expels its impurities and brightens and clear its good." In this narration, there was no evidence demonstrating that Muhammad ordered the execution of the Bedouin for wanting to renounce Islam.

In addition, Quran 5:3, which is believed to be God's final revelation to Muhammad, states that Muslims are to fear God and not those who reject Islam, and Quran 53:38–39 states that one is accountable only for one's own actions. Therefore, it postulates that in Islam, in the matters of practising a religion, it does not relate to a worldly punishment, but rather these actions are accountable to God in the afterlife. Thus, this supports the argument against the execution of apostates in Islam. [95]

However, on the other hand, some Muslims support the practice of executing apostates who leave Islam, as in Bukhari:V4 B52 N260 "The Prophet said, 'If a Muslim discards his religion and separates from the main body of Muslims, kill him." [96] However, many Muslims believe that this hadith was written in the context of war and therefore Prophet Muhammad stipulated that whichever Muslim rejects his religion, leaves from the main body of Muslims and betrays the Muslims in war should be executed as a punishment for his treachery towards the community of Muslims. So many Muslims believe that this hadith talks about the punishment of Treason. [ citation needed ]

In Iran, the constitution recognizes four religions whose status is formally protected: Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. [97] The constitution, however, also set the groundwork for the institutionalized persecution of Baháʼís, [98] who have been subjected to arrests, beatings, executions, confiscation and destruction of property, and the denial of civil rights and liberties, and the denial of access to higher education. [97] There is no freedom of conscience in Iran, as converting from Islam to any other religion is forbidden.

In Egypt, a 16 December 2006 judgment of the Supreme Constitutional Court of Egypt created a clear demarcation between recognized religions – Islam, Christianity and Judaism – and all other religious beliefs [99] [100] no other religious affiliation is officially admissible. [101] The ruling leaves members of other religious communities, including Baháʼís, without the ability to obtain the necessary government documents to have rights in their country, essentially denying them of all rights of citizenship. [101] They cannot obtain ID cards, birth certificates, death certificates, marriage or divorce certificates, and passports they also cannot be employed, educated, treated in public hospitals or vote, among other things. [101] See Egyptian identification card controversy.

Changing religion Edit

Among the most contentious areas of religious freedom is the right of an individual to change or abandon his or her own religion (apostasy), and the right to evangelize individuals seeking to convince others to make such a change.

Other debates have centered around restricting certain kinds of missionary activity by religions. Many Islamic states, and others such as China, severely restrict missionary activities of other religions. Greece, among European countries, has generally looked unfavorably on missionary activities of denominations others than the majority church and proselytizing is constitutionally prohibited. [102]

A different kind of critique of the freedom to propagate religion has come from non-Abrahamic traditions such as the African and Indian. African scholar Makau Mutua criticizes religious evangelism on the ground of cultural annihilation by what he calls "proselytizing universalist faiths" (Chapter 28: Proselytism and Cultural Integrity, p. 652):

. the (human) rights regime incorrectly assumes a level playing field by requiring that African religions compete in the marketplace of ideas. The rights corpus not only forcibly imposes on African religions the obligation to compete – a task for which as nonproselytizing, noncompetitive creeds they are not historically fashioned – but also protects the evangelizing religions in their march towards universalization . it seems inconceivable that the human rights regime would have intended to protect the right of certain religions to destroy others. [103]

Some Indian scholars [104] have similarly argued that the right to propagate religion is not culturally or religiously neutral.

In Sri Lanka, there have been debates regarding a bill on religious freedom that seeks to protect indigenous religious traditions from certain kinds of missionary activities. Debates have also occurred in various states of India regarding similar laws, particularly those that restrict conversions using force, fraud or allurement.

In 2008, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, a Christian human rights non-governmental organisation which specializes in religious freedom, launched an in-depth report on the human rights abuses faced by individuals who leave Islam for another religion. The report is the product of a year long research project in six countries. It calls on Muslim nations, the international community, the UN and the international media to resolutely address the serious violations of human rights suffered by apostates. [105]

Apostasy in Islam Edit

In Islam, apostasy is called "ridda" ("turning back") and is considered to be a profound insult to God. A person born of Muslim parents that rejects Islam is called a "murtad fitri" (natural apostate), and a person that converted to Islam and later rejects the religion is called a "murtad milli" (apostate from the community). [106]

In Islamic law (Sharia), the consensus view is that a male apostate must be put to death unless he suffers from a mental disorder or converted under duress, for example due to an imminent danger of being killed. A female apostate must be either executed, according to Shafi'i, Maliki, and Hanbali schools of Sunni Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh), or imprisoned until she reverts to Islam as advocated by the Sunni Hanafi school and by Shi'a scholars. [107]

Ideally, the one performing the execution of an apostate must be an imam. [107] At the same time, all schools of Islamic jurisprudence agree that any Muslim can kill an apostate without punishment. [108]

However, while almost all scholars agree about the punishment, many disagree on the allowable time to retract the apostasy. [109] S. A. Rahman, a former Chief Justice of Pakistan, argues that there is no indication of the death penalty for apostasy in the Qur'an. [110]

Children's rights Edit

The law in Germany includes the concept of "religious maturity" (Religiöse Mündigkeit) with a minimum age for minors to follow their own religious beliefs even if their parents don't share those or don't approve. Children 14 and older have the unrestricted right to enter or exit any religious community. Children 12 and older cannot be compelled to change to a different belief. Children 10 and older have to be heard before their parents change their religious upbringing to a different belief. [111] There are similar laws in Austria [112] and in Switzerland. [113]

Secular law Edit

Religious practice may also conflict with secular law, creating debates on religious freedom. For instance, even though polygamy is permitted in Islam, it is prohibited in secular law in many countries. This raises the question of whether prohibiting the practice infringes on the beliefs of certain Muslims. The US and India, both constitutionally secular nations, have taken two views of this. In India, polygamy is permitted, but only for Muslims, under Muslim Personal Law. In the US, polygamy is prohibited for all. This was a major source of conflict between the early LDS Church and the United States until the Church amended its position on practicing polygamy.

Similar issues have also arisen in the context of the religious use of psychedelic substances by Native American tribes in the United States, such as by the Native American Church.

In 1955, Chief Justice of California Roger J. Traynor neatly summarized the American position on how freedom of religion cannot imply freedom from law: "Although freedom of conscience and the freedom to believe are absolute, the freedom to act is not." [114] But with respect to the religious use of animals within secular law and those acts, the US Supreme Court decision in the case of the Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah in 1993 upheld the right of Santeria adherents to practice ritual animal sacrifice, with Justice Anthony Kennedy stating in the decision: "religious beliefs need not be acceptable, logical, consistent or comprehensible to others in order to merit First Amendment protection" (quoted by Justice Kennedy from the opinion by Justice Burger in Thomas v. Review Board of the Indiana Employment Security Division 450 U.S. 707 (1981)). [115]

In 1962, the case of Engel v. Vitale went to court over the violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment resulting from a mandatory nondenominational prayer in New York public schools. The Supreme Court ruled in opposition to the state. [116]

In 1963, the Supreme Court ruled on the case of Abington School District v. Schempp. Edward Schempp sued the school district in Abington over the Pennsylvania law which required students to hear and sometimes read portions of the bible for their daily education. The court ruled in favor of Schempp and the Pennsylvania law was overturned. [117]

In 1968, the Supreme Court ruled on the case of Epperson v. Arkansas. Susan Epperson, a high school teacher in Arkansas sued over a violation of religious freedom. The state had a law banning the teaching of evolution and the school Epperson worked for had provided curriculum which contained evolutionary theory. Epperson had to choose between violating the law or losing her job. The Supreme Court ruled to overturn the Arkansas law because it was unconstitutional. [118]

As a legal form of discrimination Edit

Leaders of the Christian right in the United States, United Kingdom, and other nations frame their opposition to LGBT rights and reproductive freedom as a defence of religious liberty. [119]

In court cases, religious adherents have argued that they need exemptions from laws requiring equal treatment of LGBT people to avoid being complicit in "the sinful behaviour" of LGBT people. [119] Moreover, other Christians argue that LGBT rights must be entirely removed from law to preserve the religious liberty of conservative Christians. [120]

In 2015, Kim Davis, a Kentucky county clerk, refused to abide by the Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges legalising same-sex marriage in the United States. When she refused to issue marriage licences, she became embroiled in the Miller v. Davis lawsuit. Her actions caused attorney and author Roberta Kaplan to claim that "Kim Davis is the clearest example of someone who wants to use a religious liberty argument to discriminate." [121]

Permitting discrimination because of freedom of religion is an example of the paradox of tolerance. [119]

27 October is International Religious Freedom Day, in commemoration of the execution of the Boston martyrs, a group of Quakers executed by the Puritans on Boston Common for their religious beliefs under the legislature of the Massachusetts Bay Colony between 1659–1661. [122] The US proclaimed 16 January Religious Freedom Day. [123]

In its 2011 annual report, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom designated fourteen nations as "countries of particular concern". The commission chairman commented that these are nations whose conduct marks them as the world's worst religious freedom violators and human rights abusers. The fourteen nations designated were Burma, China, Egypt, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam. Other nations on the commission's watchlist include Afghanistan, Belarus, Cuba, India, Indonesia, Laos, Russia, Somalia, Tajikistan, Turkey, and Venezuela. [124]

There are concerns about the restrictions on public religious dress in some European countries (including the Hijab, Kippah, and Christian cross). [125] [126] Article 18 of the UN International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights limits restrictions on freedom to manifest one's religion or beliefs to those necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others. [127] Freedom of religion as a legal concept is related to, but not identical with, religious toleration, separation of church and state, or secular state (laïcité).

Social hostilities and government restrictions Edit

The Pew Research Center has performed studies on international religious freedom between 2009 and 2015, compiling global data from 16 governmental and non-governmental organizations–including the United Nations, the United States State Department, and Human Rights Watch–and representing over 99.5 percent of the world's population. [128] [129] In 2009, nearly 70 percent of the world's population lived in countries classified as having heavy restrictions on freedom of religion. [128] [129] This concerns restrictions on religion originating from government prohibitions on free speech and religious expression as well as social hostilities undertaken by private individuals, organisations and social groups. Social hostilities were classified by the level of communal violence and religion-related terrorism.

While most countries provided for the protection of religious freedom in their constitutions or laws, only a quarter of those countries were found to fully respect these legal rights in practice. In 75 countries governments limit the efforts of religious groups to proselytise and in 178 countries religious groups must register with the government. In 2013, Pew classified 30% of countries as having restrictions that tend to target religious minorities, and 61% of countries have social hostilities that tend to target religious minorities. [130]

The countries in North and South America reportedly had some of the lowest levels of government and social restrictions on religion, while The Middle East and North Africa were the regions with the highest. Saudi Arabia and Iran were the countries that top the list of countries with the overall highest levels of restriction on religion. Topping the Pew government restrictions index were Saudi Arabia, Iran, Uzbekistan, China, Egypt, Burma, Maldives, Eritrea, Malaysia and Brunei.

Of the world's 25 most populous countries, Iran, Egypt, Indonesia and Pakistan had the most restrictions, while Brazil, Japan, Italy, South Africa, the UK, and the US had some of the lowest levels, as measured by Pew.

Vietnam and China were classified as having high government restrictions on religion but were in the moderate or low range when it came to social hostilities. Nigeria, Bangladesh and India were high in social hostilities but moderate in terms of government actions.

Restrictions on religion across the world increased between mid-2009 and mid-2010, according to a 2012 study by the Pew Research Center. Restrictions in each of the five major regions of the world increased—including in the Americas and sub-Saharan Africa, the two regions where overall restrictions previously had been declining. In 2010, Egypt, Nigeria, the Palestinian territories, Russia, and Yemen were added to the "very high" category of social hostilities. [131] The five highest social hostility scores were for Pakistan, India, Sri Lanka, Iraq, and Bangladesh. [132] In 2015, Pew published that social hostilities declined in 2013, but the harassment of Jews increased. [130]

In the Palestinian territories, Palestinians face tight restrictions on practicing the freedom of religion due to the ongoing Israeli–Palestinian conflict. In a report published by the Geneva-based Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor, eyewitnesses reported systematic practices aiming at preventing young men and women from performing their prayers at Al-Aqsa Mosque. These practices include military orders issued by the Israeli Defense Army commander against specific Palestinians who have an effective role in Jerusalem, interrogating young men, and creating a secret blacklist of people who are prevented from entering the Al-Aqsa Mosque. [133]

In the Beginning: Religious Freedom in the Country's Founding Moments

Our collective understanding of the framers' view of the appropriate relationship between religion and government has been clouded by the divisive nature of contemporary politics. On one side are those who say history counsels against any governmental acknowledgement of religion. Challenging them are those arguing that the same history endorses governmental assistance and support for a wide range of religious activities.

Fortunately, we are not restricted to such simplistic choices. The framers were capable of sophisticated thinking, and they approached this issue with far more nuance and subtlety than is generally appreciated.

The framers saw religion as both a force for magnificent good and unspeakable evil. John Adams wrote to Thomas Jefferson after both had left the White House, "Twenty times, in the course of my late reading, have I been on the point of breaking out, 'this would be the best of all possible worlds, if there was no religion in it. '" But, Adams quickly added, he feared that, "Without religion, this world would be something not fit to be mentioned in polite company -- I mean hell."

Those who founded our nation feared divisiveness, sectarian violence and intolerance, yet they also believed that religion could help unify a diverse nation. The general understanding they developed can be traced to three distinct strands.

The first can be considered a philosophical justification, that government must not invade sanctity of human intellect. For Jefferson, the fight to prevent religious establishments was based on his "eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man."

The second strand might be called a political rationale. George Washington, as head of the Continental Army, realized that great sensitivity to religious differences was essential to avoid, "the smallest uneasiness & jealousy among the Troops." As president, he wrote: "Religious controversies are always productive of more acrimony and irreconcilable hatreds than those which spring from any other cause."

Lastly, many supporters of religious freedom were motivated by religious concerns. A leading exemplar is John Leland, a Baptist minister who was instrumental in James Madison's election to the Virginia Ratifying Convention and one of the most important advocates for amending the Constitution to protect religious freedom. Leland would preach that the biblical admonition "My kingdom is not of this world" meant that "religion, in all its parts, is distinct from civil government." He argued that the "Government should be so fixed, that Pagans, Turks, Jews and Christians, should be equally protected in their rights."

These approaches combined to produce a national consensus. It was widely accepted that American citizens were to have absolute "freedom of conscience." As George Washington wrote during the Revolutionary War, "While we are contending for our own liberty, we should be very cautious not to violate the rights of conscience in others, ever considering that God alone is the judge of the hearts of men, and to him only in this case they are answerable."

Next, the federal government was prohibited from regulating or funding religious activities. In 1811, Madison vetoed a bill granting land to a church which had accidently erected a building on federal property. Madison declared that this grant would violate the Constitution by setting a "precedent for the appropriation of funds of the United States for the use and support of religious societies."

The framing generation also disapproved of governmental speech that favored a particular denomination. John Adams, the only one of the first four presidents to use explicitly Christian language in his speeches, was also the only one who was not reelected. His 1799 thanksgiving proclamation had implored, "through the grace of His Holy Spirit we may be disposed and enabled to yield a more suitable obedience to His righteous requisitions." In a letter written after his retirement, Adams belatedly recognized, "Nothing is more dreaded than the national government meddling with religion."

Yet, this distinction between religion and government was not understood to cleanse all religious references from political speech. As presidents, Madison, Jefferson and Washington all employed sincere religious language in their inaugurals. Madison, for example, gave his pious supplication to "the guardianship and guidance of that Almighty Being whose power regulates the destiny of nations."

To the framers, phrases like "Almighty being," "Creator," "holy author of our religion," and even "Almighty God," were expansive enough to permit each individual to join in the experience of a conscientious communion with the rest of their nation. As Jefferson wrote, such language demonstrates an intent to include, "the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, and infidel of every denomination." One is free to disagree, of course, but the framers' goal was to communicate to all, including the Deistic, agnostic, and atheistic, that they were fully valued members of the political community.

The Framers Top Ten: Essential Writings on Religious Freedom

The story of the development of religious freedom in America is not the simple narrative conveyed by contemporary political partisans. There is prejudice as well as acceptance, clarity followed by frustrating ambiguity and moments of courage mixed with political expediency. The following, in chronological order, are 10 of the most important statements from the founding generation concerning religious freedom. They begin with the anti-Catholic prejudice of the Continental Congress and continue through the attempts of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison to create a society that can truly foster true liberty of conscience.


The United States Constitution addresses the issue of religion in two places: in the First Amendment, and the Article VI prohibition on religious tests as a condition for holding public office. The First Amendment prohibits the Congress from making a law "respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof". This provision was later expanded to state and local governments, through the incorporation of the First Amendment.

Colonial precedents Edit

The October 10, 1645, charter of Flushing, Queens, New York, allowed "liberty of conscience, according to the custom and practice of Holland without molestation or disturbance from any magistrate or ecclesiastical minister." However, New Amsterdam Director-General Peter Stuyvesant issued an edict prohibiting the harboring of Quakers. On December 27, 1657, the inhabitants of Flushing approved a protest known as The Flushing Remonstrance. This contained religious arguments even mentioning freedom for "Jews, Turks, and Egyptians," but ended with a forceful declaration that any infringement of the town charter would not be tolerated.

Freedom of religion was first applied as a principle in the founding of the colony of Maryland, also founded by the Catholic Lord Baltimore, in 1634. [3] Fifteen years later (1649), an enactment of religious liberty, the Maryland Toleration Act, drafted by Lord Baltimore, provided: "No person or persons . shall from henceforth be any waies troubled, molested or discountenanced for or in respect of his or her religion nor in the free exercise thereof." The Maryland Toleration Act was repealed with the assistance of Protestant assemblymen and a new law barring Catholics from openly practicing their religion was passed. [4] In 1657, Lord Baltimore regained control after making a deal with the colony's Protestants, and in 1658 the Act was again passed by the colonial assembly. This time, it would last more than thirty years, until 1692, [5] when after Maryland's Protestant Revolution of 1689, freedom of religion was again rescinded. [3] [6] In addition in 1704, an Act was passed "to prevent the growth of Popery in this Province", preventing Catholics from holding political office. [6] Full religious toleration would not be restored in Maryland until the American Revolution, when Maryland's Charles Carroll of Carrollton signed the American Declaration of Independence.

Rhode Island (1636), Connecticut (1636), New Jersey, and Pennsylvania (1682), founded by Baptist Roger Williams, Congregationalist Thomas Hooker, and Quaker William Penn, respectively, established the religious freedom in their colonies in direct opposition to the theocratic government which Separatist Congregationalists (Pilgrim Fathers) and Puritans had enforced in Plymouth Colony (1620) and Massachusetts Bay Colony (1628). [7] Having fled religious persecution themselves in England, the leaders of Plymouth and Massachusetts Bay Colony restricted franchise to members of their church only, rigorously enforced their own interpretation of theological law and banished freethinkers such as Roger Williams, who was actually chased out of Salem., as well as banning Quakers and Anabaptists. [8] [9] [10] [11] [12] These colonies became safe havens for persecuted religious minorities. Catholics and Jews also had full citizenship and free exercise of their faiths. [13] [14] [15] Williams, Hooker, Penn, and their friends were firmly convinced that democracy and freedom of conscience were the will of God. Williams gave the most profound theological reason: As faith is the free gift of the Holy Spirit, it cannot be forced upon a person. Therefore, strict separation of church and state has to be kept. [16] Pennsylvania was the only colony that retained unlimited religious freedom until the foundation of the United States. The inseparable connection of democracy, freedom of religion, and the other forms of freedom became the political and legal basis of the new nation. In particular, Baptists and Presbyterians demanded vigorously and successfully the disestablishment of the Anglican and Congregational state churches that had existed in most colonies since the seventeenth century. [17]

The First Amendment Edit

In the United States, the religious AND civil liberties are guaranteed by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The "Establishment Clause," stating that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion," is generally read to prohibit the Federal government from establishing a national church ("religion") or excessively involving itself in religion, particularly to the benefit of one religion over another. Following the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and through the doctrine of incorporation, this restriction is held to be applicable to state governments as well.

The "Free Exercise Clause" states that Congress cannot "prohibit the free exercise" of religious practices. The Supreme Court of the United States has consistently held, however, that the right to free exercise of religion is not absolute. For example, in the 19th century, some of the members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints traditionally practiced polygamy, yet in Reynolds v. United States (1879), the Supreme Court upheld the criminal conviction of one of these members under a federal law banning polygamy. The Court reasoned that to do otherwise would set precedent for a full range of religious beliefs including those as extreme as human sacrifice. The Court stated that "Laws are made for the government of actions, and while they cannot interfere with mere religious belief and opinions, they may with practices." For example, if one were part of a religion that believed in vampirism, the First Amendment would protect one's belief in vampirism, but not the practice.

The Fourteenth Amendment Edit

The Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees the religious civil rights. [18] Whereas the First Amendment secures the free exercise of religion, section one of the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits discrimination, including on the basis of religion, by securing "the equal protection of the laws" for every person:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction there of, are citizens of the United States and of the State where in they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

This amendment was cited in Meyer v. Nebraska, striking down laws which banned education in the German language. These laws mainly affected church schools teaching in German. Some laws, such is in Montana, forbade preaching in German during church. [19] A total ban on teaching German in both public and private schools was imposed for a time in at least fourteen states, including California, Indiana, [20] Wisconsin, [21] Ohio, Iowa and Nebraska. California's ban lasted into the mid-1920s. German was banned again in California churches in 1941.

The "wall of separation" Edit

Thomas Jefferson wrote that the First Amendment erected a "wall of separation between church and state" likely borrowing the language from Roger Williams, founder of the First Baptist Church in America and the Colony of Rhode Island, who used the phrase in his 1644 book, The Bloody Tenent of Persecution. [22] James Madison, often regarded as the "Father of the Bill of Rights", [23] also often wrote of the "perfect separation", [24] "line of separation", [25] "strongly guarded as is the separation between religion and government in the Constitution of the United States", [26] and "total separation of the church from the state". [27] Madison explicitly credited Martin Luther as the theorist who "led the way" in providing the proper distinction between the civil and the ecclesiastical spheres with his doctrine of the two kingdoms. [28]

Controversy rages in the United States between those who wish to restrict government involvement with religious institutions and remove religious references from government institutions and property, and those who wish to loosen such prohibitions. Advocates for stronger separation of church and state, such as already exists in France with the practice of laïcité, emphasize the plurality of faiths and non-faiths in the country, and what they see as broad guarantees of the federal Constitution. Their opponents emphasize what they see as the largely Christian heritage and history of the nation (often citing the references to "Nature's God" and the "Creator" of men in the Declaration of Independence and the dating of the Constitution with the phrase "in the Year of our Lord"). While broad defenses of religious freedom were historically understood as ideologically liberal, in has been opined that in the 21st century they are understood as ideologically conservative. [29] Some more [ compared to? ] socially conservative Christian sects, such as the Christian Reconstructionist movement, oppose the concept of a "wall of separation" and prefer a closer relationship between church and state. [ citation needed ]

Problems also arise in U.S. public schools concerning the teaching and display of religious issues. In various counties, school choice and school vouchers have been put forward as solutions to accommodate variety in beliefs and freedom of religion, by allowing individual school boards to choose between a secular, religious or multi-faith vocation, and allowing parents free choice among these schools. Critics of American voucher programs claim that they take funds away from public schools, and that the amount of funds given by vouchers is not enough to help many middle and working-class parents.

U.S. judges often ordered alcoholic defendants to attend Alcoholics Anonymous or face imprisonment. However, in 1999, a federal appeals court ruled this unconstitutional because the A.A. program relies on submission to a "Higher Power". [30]

Thomas Jefferson also played a large role in the formation of freedom of religion. He created the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, which has since been incorporated into the Virginia State Constitution.

Other statements Edit

Inalienable rights Edit

The United States of America was established on foundational principles by the Declaration of Independence: [31]

We hold these truths to be self-evident: That all men are created equal that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness that, to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed (based on Thomas Jefferson's draft.) [32]

Religious institutions Edit

In 1944, a joint committee of the Federal Council of Churches of Christ in America and the Foreign Missions Conference formulated a "Statement on Religious Liberty"

Religious Liberty shall be interpreted to include freedom to worship according to conscience and to bring up children in the faith of their parents freedom for the individual to change his religion freedom to preach, educate, publish and carry on missionary activities and freedom to organize with others, and to acquire and hold property, for these purposes. [33]

Freedom of religion restoration Edit

Following increasing government involvement in religious matters, Congress passed the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act. [34] A number of states then passed corresponding acts (e.g., Missouri passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act). [35]

Treaty of Tripoli Edit

Signed on November 4, 1796, the Treaty of Tripoli was a document that included the following statement:

As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen [Muslims] and as the said States never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan [Mohammedan] nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.

This treaty was submitted to the Senate and was ratified unanimously on June 7, 1797, and then signed by President John Adams on June 10, 1797. In accordance with Article VI of the Constitution, on that date this treaty became incorporated as part of "the supreme Law of the Land".

Jehovah's Witnesses Edit

Since the 1940s, the Jehovah's Witnesses have often invoked the First Amendment's freedom of religion clauses to protect their ability to engage in the proselytizing (or preaching) that is central to their faith. This series of litigation has helped to define civil liberties case law in the United States and Canada.

In the United States of America and several other countries, the legal struggles of the Jehovah's Witnesses have yielded some of the most important judicial decisions regarding freedom of religion, press and speech. In the United States, many Supreme Court cases involving Jehovah's Witnesses are now landmark decisions of First Amendment law. Of the 72 cases involving the Jehovah's Witnesses that have been brought before the U.S. Supreme Court, the Court has ruled in favor of them 47 times. Even the cases that the Jehovah's Witnesses lost helped the U.S. to more clearly define the limits of First Amendment rights. Former Supreme Court Justice Harlan Stone jokingly suggested "The Jehovah's Witnesses ought to have an endowment in view of the aid which they give in solving the legal problems of civil liberties." "Like it or not," observed American author and editor Irving Dilliard, "Jehovah's Witnesses have done more to help preserve our freedoms than any other religious group."

Professor C. S. Braden wrote: "They have performed a signal service to democracy by their fight to preserve their civil rights, for in their struggle they have done much to secure those rights for every minority group in America." [36]

"The cases that the Witnesses were involved in formed the bedrock of 1st Amendment protections for all citizens," said Paul Polidoro, a lawyer who argued the Watchtower Society's case before the Supreme Court in February 2002. "These cases were a good vehicle for the courts to address the protections that were to be accorded free speech, the free press and free exercise of religion. In addition, the cases marked the emergence of individual rights as an issue within the U.S. court system.

Before the Jehovah's Witnesses brought several dozen cases before the U.S. Supreme Court during the 1930s and 1940s, the Court had handled few cases contesting laws that restricted freedom of speech and freedom of religion. Until then, the First Amendment had only been applied to Congress and the federal government.

However, the cases brought before the Court by the Jehovah's Witnesses allowed the Court to consider a range of issues: mandatory flag salute, sedition, free speech, literature distribution and military draft law. These cases proved to be pivotal moments in the formation of constitutional law. Jehovah's Witnesses' court victories have strengthened rights including the protection of religious conduct from federal and state interference, the right to abstain from patriotic rituals and military service and the right to engage in public discourse.

During the World War II era, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of Jehovah's Witnesses in several landmark cases that helped pave the way for the modern civil rights movement. In all, Jehovah's Witnesses brought 23 separate First Amendment actions before the U.S. Supreme Court between 1938 and 1946.

Lemon test Edit

The Supreme Court has consistently held fast to the rule of strict separation of church and state when matters of prayer are involved. In Engel v. Vitale (1962) the Court ruled that government-imposed nondenominational prayer in public school was unconstitutional. In Lee v. Weisman (1992), the Court ruled prayer established by a school principal at a middle school graduation was also unconstitutional, and in Santa Fe Independent School Dist. v. Doe (2000) it ruled that school officials may not directly impose student-led prayer during high school football games nor establish an official student election process for the purpose of indirectly establishing such prayer. The distinction between force of government and individual liberty is the cornerstone of such cases. Each case restricts acts by government designed to establish prayer while explicitly or implicitly affirming students' individual freedom to pray.

The Court has therefore tried to determine a way to deal with church/state questions. In Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971), the Court created a three-part test for laws dealing with religious establishment. This determined that a law was constitutional if it:

  1. Had a secular purpose
  2. Neither advanced nor inhibited religion
  3. Did not foster an excessive government entanglement with religion.

Some examples of where inhibiting religion has been struck down:

  • In Widmar v. Vincent, 454 U.S. 263 (1981), the Court ruled that a Missouri law prohibiting religious groups from using state university grounds and buildings for religious worship was unconstitutional. As a result, Congress decided in 1984 that this should apply to secondary and primary schools as well, passing the Equal Access Act, which prevents public schools from discriminating against students based on "religious, political, philosophical or other content of the speech at such meetings". In Board of Education of Westside Community Schools v. Mergens, 496 U.S. 226, 236 (1990), the Court upheld this law when it ruled that a school board's refusal to allow a Christian Bible club to meet in a public high school classroom violated the act.
  • In Good News Club v. Milford Central School, 533 U.S. 98 (2001), the Court ruled that religious groups must be allowed to use public schools after hours if the same access is granted to other community groups.
  • In Rosenberger v. Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia, 515 U.S. 819 (1995), the Supreme Court found that the University of Virginia was unconstitutionally withholding funds from a religious student magazine.

Wisconsin v. Yoder Edit

Hosanna-Tabor Edit

Masterpiece Cakeshop Edit

Klein v. Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries is similar. In June 2019, the Supreme Court vacated a ruling by the Oregon Appeals Court, requiring that court to rehear the case in the light of the Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission decision in 2018. [37] [38]

Under the doctrine of incorporation, the First Amendment has been made applicable to the states. Therefore, the states must guarantee the freedom of religion in the same way the federal government must.

Many states have freedom of religion established in their constitution, though the exact legal consequences of this right vary for historical and cultural reasons. Most states interpret "freedom of religion" as including the freedom of long-established religious communities to remain intact and not be destroyed. By extension, democracies interpret "freedom of religion" as the right of each individual to freely choose to convert from one religion to another, mix religions, or abandon religion altogether.

Religious tests Edit

The affirmation or denial of specific religious beliefs had, in the past, been made into qualifications for public office however, the United States Constitution states that the inauguration of a president may include an "affirmation" of the faithful execution of his duties rather than an "oath" to that effect — this provision was included in order to respect the religious prerogatives of the Quakers, a Protestant Christian denomination that declines the swearing of oaths. The U.S. Constitution also provides that "No religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification of any Office or public Trust under the United States." Several states have language included in their constitutions that requires state office-holders to have particular religious beliefs. [39] These include Arkansas, [40] Maryland, [40] Massachusetts, [41] North Carolina, [41] Pennsylvania, [41] South Carolina, [41] Tennessee, [41] and Texas. [41] [42] Some of these beliefs (or oaths) were historically required of jurors and witnesses in court. Even though they are still on the books, these provisions have been rendered unenforceable by U.S. Supreme Court decisions. [39]

With reference to the use of animals, the U.S. Supreme Court decision in the cases of the Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah in 1993 upheld the right of Santeria adherents to practice ritual animal sacrifice with Justice Anthony Kennedy stating in the decision, "religious beliefs need not be acceptable, logical, consistent or comprehensible to others in order to merit First Amendment protection". (quoted by Justice Kennedy from the opinion by Justice Burger in Thomas v. Review Board of the Indiana Employment Security Division 450 U.S. 707 (1981)) [43] Likewise in Texas in 2009, issues that related to animal sacrifice and animal rights were taken to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in the case of Jose Merced, President Templo Yoruba Omo Orisha Texas, Inc., v. City of Euless. The court ruled that the free exercise of religion was meritorious and prevailing and that Merced was entitled under the Texas Religious Freedom and Restoration Act (TRFRA) to an injunction preventing the city of Euless, Texas from enforcing its ordinances that burdened his religious practices relating to the use of animals. [44]

Religious liberty has not prohibited states or the federal government from prohibiting or regulating certain behaviors i.e. prostitution, gambling, alcohol and certain drugs, although some libertarians interpret religious freedom to extend to these behaviors. The United States Supreme Court has ruled that a right to privacy or a due process right does prevent the government from prohibiting adult access to birth control, pornography, and from outlawing sodomy between consenting adults and early trimester abortions.

In practice committees questioning nominees for public office sometimes ask detailed questions about their religious beliefs. The political reason for this may be to expose the nominee to public ridicule for holding a religious belief contrary to the majority of the population. This practice has drawn ire from some for violating the No Religious Test Clause. [45]

States Edit

Some state constitutions in the US require belief in God or a Supreme Being as a prerequisite for holding public office or being a witness in court. This applies to Arkansas, [46] Maryland, [47] Mississippi, [48] North Carolina, [49] where the requirement was challenged and overturned in Voswinkel v. Hunt (1979), [ citation needed ] South Carolina, [50] Tennessee, [51] and Texas, [52] debatably. [53] A unanimous 1961 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Torcaso v. Watkins held that the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the federal Constitution override these state requirements, [54] so they are not enforced.

Oath of public office Edit

The no religious test clause of the U.S. constitution states that "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States." Although it has become tradition for US presidents to end their Presidential Oath with "so help me God", this is not required by the Constitution. The same applies to the Vice President, the House of Representatives, the Senate, the members of the Cabinet, and all other civil and military officers and federal employees, who can either make an affirmation or take an oath ending with "so help me God." [55]

Military Edit

After reports in August 2010 [update] that soldiers who refused to attend a Christian band's concert at a Virginia military base were essentially punished by being banished to their barracks and told to clean them up, an Army spokesman said that an investigation was underway and "If something like that were to have happened, it would be contrary to Army policy." [56]

Problems sometimes arise in the workplace concerning religious observance when a private employer discharges an employee for failure to report to work on what the employee considers a holy day or a day of rest. In the United States, the view that has generally prevailed is that firing for any cause in general renders a former employee ineligible for unemployment compensation, but that this is no longer the case if the 'cause' is religious in nature, especially an employee's unwillingness to work during Jewish Shabbat, Christian Sabbath, Hindu Diwali, or Muslim jumu'ah.

Amish Edit

As of December 2019, Lenawee County, Michigan has condemned the houses of 14 Amish families over their use of outhouses lacking connections to septic systems approved by the county. [57] [58]

Baptists Edit

In 1919, Harvey Boyce Taylor, a Baptist pastor in Murray, Kentucky, was jailed and fined for holding church related gatherings during the Spanish flu outbreak. [59]

Pentacostals Edit

In 2020, Rodney Howard-Browne, a Pentecostal pastor in Florida, was arrested for holding church services and claiming that his church's ministry was "essential" and should not be shut down during the 2020 coronavirus pandemic. Another Pentecostal pastor, Tony Spell in Louisiana, was charged with six misdemeanor counts after holding church services in Central, Louisiana when the governor had issued an order against gatherings of ten or more people. [60]

Catholics Edit

John Higham described anti-Catholicism as "the most luxuriant, tenacious tradition of paranoiac agitation in American history". [61] Anti-Catholicism which was prominent in the United Kingdom was exported to the United States. Two types of anti-Catholic rhetoric existed in colonial society. The first, derived from the heritage of the Protestant Reformation and the religious wars of the 16th century, consisted of the "Anti-Christ" and the "Whore of Babylon" variety and dominated Anti-Catholic thought until the late 17th century. The second was a more secular variety which focused on the supposed intrigue of the Catholics intent on extending medieval despotism worldwide. [62]

Historian Arthur Schlesinger Sr. has called Anti-Catholicism "the deepest-held bias in the history of the American people." [63]

During the Plundering Time, Protestant pirates robbed Catholic residents of the British colony of Maryland. Because many of the British colonists, such as the Puritans and Congregationalists, were fleeing religious persecution by the Church of England, much of early American religious culture exhibited the more extreme anti-Catholic bias of these Protestant denominations. Monsignor John Tracy Ellis wrote that a "universal anti-Catholic bias was brought to Jamestown in 1607 and vigorously cultivated in all the thirteen colonies from Massachusetts to Georgia." [64] Colonial charters and laws contained specific proscriptions against Roman Catholics. Monsignor Ellis noted that a common hatred of the Roman Catholic Church could unite Anglican clerics and Puritan ministers despite their differences and conflicts.

Some of America's Founding Fathers held anti-clerical beliefs. For example, in 1788, John Jay urged the New York Legislature to require office-holders to renounce foreign authorities "in all matters ecclesiastical as well as civil." [65] Thomas Jefferson wrote: "History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government," [66] and, "In every country and in every age, the priest has been hostile to liberty. He is always in alliance with the despot, abetting his abuses in return for protection to his own." [67]

Some states devised loyalty oaths designed to exclude Catholics from state and local office. [68] The public support for American independence and the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution by prominent American Catholics like Charles Carroll of Carrollton, the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence, and his second cousins, Bishop John Carroll and Daniel Carroll, allowed Roman Catholics to be included in the constitutional protections of civil and religious liberty. [69]

Anti-Catholic animus in the United States reached a peak in the 19th century when the Protestant population became alarmed by the influx of Catholic immigrants. Some American Protestants, having an increased interest in prophecies regarding the end of time, claimed that the Catholic Church was the Whore of Babylon in the Book of Revelation. [70] The resulting "nativist" movement, which achieved prominence in the 1840s, was whipped into a frenzy of anti-Catholicism that led to mob violence, the burning of Catholic property, and the killing of Catholics. [71] This violence was fed by claims that Catholics were destroying the culture of the United States. The nativist movement found expression in a national political movement called the Know-Nothing Party of the 1850s, which (unsuccessfully) ran former president Millard Fillmore as its presidential candidate in 1856.

The founder of the Know-Nothing movement, Lewis C. Levin, based his political career entirely on anti-Catholicism, and served three terms in the U.S. House of Representatives (1845–1851), after which he campaigned for Fillmore and other "nativist" candidates.

After 1875 many states passed constitutional provisions, called "Blaine Amendments, forbidding tax money be used to fund parochial schools. [72] [73] In 2002, the United States Supreme Court partially vitiated these amendments, when they ruled that vouchers were constitutional if tax dollars followed a child to a school, even if it were religious. [74]

Anti-Catholicism was widespread in the 1920s anti-Catholics, including the Ku Klux Klan, believed that Catholicism was incompatible with democracy and that parochial schools encouraged separatism and kept Catholics from becoming loyal Americans. The Catholics responded to such prejudices by repeatedly asserting their rights as American citizens and by arguing that they, not the nativists (anti-Catholics), were true patriots since they believed in the right to freedom of religion. [75]

The 1928 presidential campaign of Al Smith was a rallying point for the Klan and the tide of anti-Catholicism in the U.S. The Catholic Church of the Little Flower was first built in 1925 in Royal Oak, Michigan, a largely Protestant area. Two weeks after it opened, the Ku Klux Klan burned a cross in front of the church. [76] The church burned down in a fire in 1936. [77] In response, the church built a fireproof crucifixion tower, as a "cross they could not burn". [78]

In 1922, the voters of Oregon passed an initiative amending Oregon Law Section 5259, the Compulsory Education Act. The law unofficially became known as the Oregon School Law. The citizens' initiative was primarily aimed at eliminating parochial schools, including Catholic schools. [79] The law caused outraged Catholics to organize locally and nationally for the right to send their children to Catholic schools. In Pierce v. Society of Sisters (1925), the United States Supreme Court declared the Oregon's Compulsory Education Act unconstitutional in a ruling that has been called "the Magna Carta of the parochial school system." However, there is still controversy over the legality of parish schools. In December 2018, Ed Mechmann, the director of public policy at the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of New York noted that the new regulations from the New York State Education Department would "give local school boards virtually unlimited power over private religious schools. There is no protection against government officials who are hostile to religious schools or who just want to eliminate the competition." [80]

In 1928, Al Smith became the first Roman Catholic to gain a major party's nomination for president, and his religion became an issue during the campaign. Many Protestants feared that Smith would take orders from church leaders in Rome in making decisions affecting the country.

A key factor that hurt John F. Kennedy in his 1960 campaign for the presidency of the United States was the widespread prejudice against his Roman Catholic religion some Protestants, including Norman Vincent Peale, believed that, if he were elected president, Kennedy would have to take orders from the pope in Rome. [81] To address fears that his Roman Catholicism would impact his decision-making, John F. Kennedy famously told the Greater Houston Ministerial Association on September 12, 1960, "I am not the Catholic candidate for President. I am the Democratic Party's candidate for President who also happens to be a Catholic. I do not speak for my Church on public matters — and the Church does not speak for me." [82] He promised to respect the separation of church and state and not to allow Catholic officials to dictate public policy to him. Kennedy also raised the question of whether one-quarter of Americans were relegated to second-class citizenship just because they were Catholic.

Kennedy went on to win the national popular vote over Richard Nixon by just one tenth of one percentage point (0.1%) – the closest popular-vote margin of the 20th century. In the electoral college, Kennedy's victory was larger, as he took 303 electoral votes to Nixon's 219 (269 were needed to win). The New York Times, summarizing the discussion late in November, spoke of a "narrow consensus" among the experts that Kennedy had won more than he lost as a result of his Catholicism, [83] as Catholics flocked to Kennedy to demonstrate their group solidarity in demanding political equality.

In 2011, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops argued that the Obama Administration put an undue burden upon Catholics and forced them to violate their right to freedom of religion as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Another concern relating to the Catholic Church and politics in the United States is the freedom to provide church services to illegally undocumented immigrants as most hail from predominantly Roman Catholic nations.

Christian Scientists Edit

The Christian Scientists have specific protections relating to their beliefs on refusing medical care and the use of prayer.

First Amendment and Religion

The First Amendment has two provisions concerning religion: the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause. The Establishment clause prohibits the government from "establishing" a religion. The precise definition of "establishment" is unclear. Historically, it meant prohibiting state-sponsored churches, such as the Church of England.

Today, what constitutes an "establishment of religion" is often governed under the three-part test set forth by the U.S. Supreme Court in Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 U.S. 602 (1971). Under the "Lemon" test, government can assist religion only if (1) the primary purpose of the assistance is secular, (2) the assistance must neither promote nor inhibit religion, and (3) there is no excessive entanglement between church and state.

The Free Exercise Clause protects citizens' right to practice their religion as they please, so long as the practice does not run afoul of a "public morals" or a "compelling" governmental interest. For instance, in Prince v. Massachusetts, 321 U.S. 158 (1944), the Supreme Court held that a state could force the inoculation of children whose parents would not allow such action for religious reasons. The Court held that the state had an overriding interest in protecting public health and safety.

Sometimes the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause come into conflict. The federal courts help to resolve such conflicts, with the Supreme Court being the ultimate arbiter.

Check out similar cases related to Engel v. Vitale that deal with religion in schools and the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.

To Understand How Religion Shapes America, Look To Its Early Days

A plethora of religious iconography fill the National Museum of American History's new exhibit, Religion in Early America. From left to right, an 18th century Torah scroll, a 17th century Catholic cross and a children's Noah's Ark playset from 1828 sit on display. Liam James Doyle/NPR hide caption

A plethora of religious iconography fill the National Museum of American History's new exhibit, Religion in Early America. From left to right, an 18th century Torah scroll, a 17th century Catholic cross and a children's Noah's Ark playset from 1828 sit on display.

Religion has played an outsized role in U.S. history and politics, but it's one that has often gone unrecognized in U.S. museums.

"As a focused subject area, it's been neglected," says Peter Manseau, a scholar and writer installed last year as the first full-time religion curator at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History.

America's exceptional commitment to religious freedom stems from the diversity of its faith traditions. The rebellious attitudes prevalent in frontier settlements fostered the growth of evangelical movements. African slaves introduced Islam to America. The drive to abolish slavery was led largely by Christian preachers.

Religion curator Peter Manseau stands in the National Museum of American History's new exhibit, Religion in Early America. Liam James Doyle/NPR hide caption

Religion curator Peter Manseau stands in the National Museum of American History's new exhibit, Religion in Early America.

"We can't tell the story of America without telling the story of religion," Manseau says, "and we can't answer questions about the importance of religion today without going back to earlier generations."

Manseau's appointment as curator and his inaugural Religion in Early America exhibit signal "the beginning of a renewed engagement with the role of religion in American history," according to John L. Gray, the museum director. Each of the objects in Manseau's exhibit adds a special dimension to the larger narrative.

The Bay Psalm Book, also known as The Whole Booke of Psalmes Faithfully Translated into English Metre, was the first hymnal printed in America, 1640. Photo courtesy of the National Museum of American History / On loan from David Rubenstein hide caption

The Bay Psalm Book, also known as The Whole Booke of Psalmes Faithfully Translated into English Metre, was the first hymnal printed in America, 1640.

Photo courtesy of the National Museum of American History / On loan from David Rubenstein

The oldest item in the collection is the Bay Psalm Book, a translation of the Psalms assembled by a team of educated Puritans in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1640. The Puritans split from the Church of England, determined to purify the practice of their faith. The only songs they allowed in their worship were the Psalms, but they needed a Psalm book for their services.

"It's a great example of the do-it-yourself approach to American religion that you see again and again," says Manseau, who holds a Ph.D. in the history of religion from Georgetown University and is the author of several books. "Separated from the cultures in which these traditions were born, there's a need to improvise, a need to make things new, with the materials at hand."

The persecution that Puritans faced in England was a key factor driving them to the New World. So it also was with Quakers, Baptists, Shakers, Jews, and other religious minorities, all of whom saw America as a place they would finally be free to practice their faith.

"This country, somewhat uniquely, is a nation of transplanted religions," Manseau says, "interacting with the beliefs and practices that were here, but also with new traditions coming in, learning and needing to negotiate, to compromise, and finding ways to live together. The practical implication of this diversity was religious freedom and the disestablishment of any particular church."

A six-foot-tall pulpit that George Whitefield, an outspoken and controversial preacher, carried around because he was not allowed inside many churches. Liam James Doyle/NPR hide caption

A six-foot-tall pulpit that George Whitefield, an outspoken and controversial preacher, carried around because he was not allowed inside many churches.

The idea of rebelling against conventionally practiced religion is a big part of America's faith history. George Whitefield, an Anglican minister from England, was such an outspoken and controversial preacher that he was not welcome in most churches, so he built his own pulpit and took it on the road, preaching outdoors to crowds that numbered in the thousands.

Whitefield's portable pulpit, about six feet tall, with hinged sides, is in the Smithsonian exhibit. "You could fold it up and strap it to the side of a horse or throw it in the back of a cart," Manseau notes. The itinerant preacher is believed to have used it about 2,000 times, thus pioneering the great revival meetings that became a key feature of evangelical Christianity in the United States.

Whitefield's popular appeal demonstrated the deep religiosity of many Americans in the colonial era, but some of their founding fathers weren't so devout. As a man of reason, Thomas Jefferson struggled with Christianity, trying to reconcile the teachings of Jesus with the ideals of the Enlightenment. His idea was to edit the Bible, literally.

The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, left, was created by Thomas Jefferson to express his own rational approach to faith. Using a pen knife and glue, Jefferson crafted a condensed version of the New Testament, right, in keeping with the spirit of the Enlightenment. Liam James Doyle/NPR hide caption

The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth, left, was created by Thomas Jefferson to express his own rational approach to faith. Using a pen knife and glue, Jefferson crafted a condensed version of the New Testament, right, in keeping with the spirit of the Enlightenment.

Working in the four languages familiar to him – English, French, Greek, and Latin – Jefferson went through several copies of the New Testament, following the scripture closely.

"With a pen knife, he would remove those sections that he agreed with and found useful, and then he glued them together in this four-column book," Manseau says, pointing to a yellowing cut-and-pasted Bible in a display case, "one column for each language."

Jefferson called his version of the New Testament "The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth." The Smithsonian exhibit includes one of the Bibles that Jefferson cut apart, as well as the one he created from his pasted clippings.

With his rendering, Jefferson offered a New Testament narrative he found preferable to the original.

"Jefferson saw himself as a Christian in what he thought was the truest sense, as one who saw Jesus as a moral exemplar and a teacher," Manseau says. "He didn't have any use for miracles or the supernatural, which he took to be additions added to the story later on." Notably, Jefferson's version ends with Jesus being buried and does not include the Resurrection.

Though America is often portrayed as a Christian nation, its religious history is more complex, as the exhibit makes clear. Many of the African slaves brought to America were Muslims. Some were literate in Arabic, and did their best to maintain their faith. One, a man named Bilali Muhammed, wrote a thirteen page text in Arabic, which has been preserved and is displayed in the exhibit.

Brought to America as a slave, Bilali Muhammed wrote this 13-page Muslim text in Arabic. Liam James Doyle/NPR hide caption

Brought to America as a slave, Bilali Muhammed wrote this 13-page Muslim text in Arabic.

"It is a very simple document," Manseau says. "It contains some basics of Islamic practice, [such as] 'These are the times at which we pray. This is why we wash our hands. This is why we wash our feet before we pray.'"

Manseau does not read Arabic, but scholars have told him the text includes only "snatches" of quoted text from the Quran. "The text appears to have been written by someone who was in the process of forgetting," Manseau says, "trying his best to hold on to what he once knew. There are basic ideas of, 'This is what I want to pass on to my children if they're going to learn to be Muslims,' as well as words of praise to Allah, despite the circumstances."

A former slave owner, Freeborn Garrettson freed his slaves and became an abolitionist preacher, traveling with these saddlebags as he visited plantations. Loan from C. Wesley Christman Archives, New York Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church/Stephen Elliot/Courtesy of the National Museum of American History hide caption

A former slave owner, Freeborn Garrettson freed his slaves and became an abolitionist preacher, traveling with these saddlebags as he visited plantations.

Loan from C. Wesley Christman Archives, New York Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church/Stephen Elliot/Courtesy of the National Museum of American History

Religious faith, in fact, was key to the abolition of slavery. The Religion in Early America exhibit tells that story in part through a pair of saddlebags, once belonging to a former slaveholder named Freeborn Garretson, a plantation owner and man of wealth in Maryland.

Garretson was also a religious man, and one Sunday morning, while reading the Bible, he was suddenly struck by a thought from above, which he interpreted as the voice of God, commanding him to let his slaves go free.

From that day on, Garretson was a committed abolitionist and spent the rest of his days as an itinerant minister, traveling on horseback from plantation to plantation, preaching the evils of slavery and trying to convince other slaveowners that they were violating God's will.

Garretson's saddlebags are on display in the exhibit as, in Manseau's words, "the iconic objects of itinerant preachers throughout early America. " He says Garretson carried Christian tracts in the bags, as well as pro-abolition writings which he shared with the people whose opinions he was hoping to change.

The "Religion in Early America" exhibits will continue at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History for a full year.

Correction June 29, 2017

One of the photos with this report has been replaced. That was not the Bay Psalm Book in the image. The photo that is now on this page is of the Bay Psalm Book.

Religious Freedom Restoration Act

Our editors will review what you’ve submitted and determine whether to revise the article.

Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), (1993), U.S. legislation that originally prohibited the federal government and the states from “substantially burden[ing] a person’s exercise of religion” unless “application of the burden…is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest” and “is the least restrictive means of furthering that…interest.” In response to City of Boerne v. Flores (1997), in which the U.S. Supreme Court held that the RFRA could not be applied to the states, the U.S. Congress amended the law (2000) to limit its applicability to the federal government.

In enacting the RFRA, Congress codified a constitutional rule, the compelling-interest “balancing test,” that the Supreme Court had used until 1990 to determine whether generally applicable and religiously neutral laws that incidentally place a substantial burden on a person’s religious practices are inconsistent with the free-exercise clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (“Congress shall make no law…prohibiting the free exercise [of religion]”). According to the balancing test, such laws are unconstitutional unless they serve a compelling governmental interest. In 2000 Congress also added a new statute, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), which applied the principles of the RFRA to local and state governments.

The RFRA and RLUIPA were the basis of a U.S. Supreme Court case, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. (2014), in which the court held that the religious freedom of Hobby Lobby Stores, a for-profit corporation, and its owners had been illegally infringed under the RFRA by the so-called “contraceptive mandate,” a regulation pursuant to the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (2010 PPACA) that required businesses employing 50 or more persons to provide health-insurance coverage of all contraceptive methods then approved by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration).

This article was most recently revised and updated by Brian Duignan, Senior Editor.

Religion in America on July 4, 1776

When the Declaration of Independence was drafted on July 4, 1776, religious practice in the 13 colonies of the United States was colorful and varied. The quest for independence -- as well as loyalist resistance to the cause -- permeated church life and teachings across denominational lines. Patriots argued that their fight was God-ordained, while many Anglican clergy were bound by oath to pray for the King and the royal family.

Benjamin Franklin depicts God's role in the revolution in his design for the Great Seal of the United States. Circling an image of Moses parting the Red Sea and leading the Israelites out of Egypt is the inscription, "Rebellion to Tyrants is Obedience to God." Cast in 1752 in Philadelphia, the Liberty Bell bears the words of Lev. 25:10, "Proclaim liberty throughout the land unto all inhabitants thereof." And the opening lines of the Declaration of Independence cite God as the author of the quest for freedom: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

Around the time of the Revolutionary War, most American Christians belonged to Anglican, Congregationalist, or Presbyterian groups. In 1776, there were also around 2,000 Jews (mostly Sephardic) and five synagogues in the colonies. The average size of a church congregation was around seventy-five members, and religious adherence amounted to only 17 percent of the total population.

The effect of the struggle for independence on religious practice was most visible in Anglican parishes. Since Anglican priests pledged loyalty to the King as a part of their ordination vows, many remained faithful to the British and continued with liturgical prayers for the monarchy. Boston's King's Chapel was a thriving Anglican congregation during this time, with "box pews," or small enclosures owned and even decorated by wealthy families, on the main floor, and "unboxed pews" for black or poor church members on the second floor. King's Chapel was the first church in New England to incorporate music into its services, having both a choir and an organ. Popular at the time was the hymn, "Old 100th," commonly sung today as a doxology ("Praise God from whom all blessings flow").

Led by a Loyalist priest, King's Chapel closed its doors after the British retreat on Evacuation Day (March 17, 1776) rather than allow the patriots to take over. Other Anglican congregations aligned themselves with the revolutionary cause and chose to change the liturgy rather than abandon it entirely. The rector of Christ Church in St. Mary's County, Maryland, pasted strips of paper with prayers for the Continental Congress over the prayers for the King in the Book of Common Prayer. At a vestry meeting on July 4, 1776, Philadelphia's Christ Church made a similar move, replacing the prayers for the King with a prayer for the wisdom of the new government: "That it may please thee to endue the Congress of the United States & all others in Authority, legislative, executive, & judicial with grace, wisdom & understanding, to execute Justice and to maintain Truth."

Rev. Peter Muhlenberg made a bold display of patriotism before his Anglican congregation in Woodstock, Va. At the conclusion of a sermon in January 1776, he threw off his clerical robes to reveal his Virginia military uniform. During the struggle for independence, a number of ministers left their congregations to work as chaplains or take up arms, even some Quakers who felt that the cause of independence superseded their commitment to pacifism.

The energy of the Great Awakening of the 1740s infused many colonial congregations with evangelical and prophetic zeal. This general spirit contributed to a great sharing of ideas and worship practices among Protestant demonimations. In Congregational churches, extended sermons were the centerpiece of worship. At the First Congregational Church in Greenwich, Connecticut, for example, the pastor used an hourglass to time his sermons. "Sometimes the sermons required three or four turns of the hourglass," reports Pat Larrabee, head of the church's Historical Committee. "And if church members fell asleep during the sermon, someone would tickle them with a feather at the end of a long pole!"

Sleepy congregants were less of a problem at Beneficent Congregational Church in Providence, Rhode Island. As a "New Light" church, the congregation embraced more emotional preaching typical of Jonathan Edwards and the revivals of the day. "Beneficent was definitely on board with the whole independence movement," reports Rev. Todd Grant Yonkman, Beneficent's current co-minister. "Sermons were very expressive and enthusiastic -- a little bit of fire, a little bit of brimstone. Not quite as staid and somber as the sister church across the river." In these churches, communion was celebrated infrequently and considered a special occasion.

Music played an important role in these early Congregationalist services, but most likely without instruments. Rather, church members would learn songs by repetition, or "line singing," in which a leader would sing a line and the group would repeat until a song was mastered. Popular at the time were the hymns of Isaac Watts, including "O God, Our Help in Ages Past" and "Joy to the Word." Legend has it that when they ran out of proper wadding for their guns, revolutionary soldiers once even used pages from Isaac Watts hymnals offered by a resourceful Presbyterian minister nearby!

The fight for independence took the energy and attention of church leaders and congregants, and the idea that God was on the side of the revolution informed both the religious and political mindset of the time. While religious practices were diverse -- from Presbyterian communion tokens to whitewashed Congregational meeting houses to Anglican redactions of the Book of Common Prayer -- both patriots and loyalists understood their causes to be ordained by God. Even today, "America the Beautiful" occupies a place in most church hymnals, while the American flag often stands behind the altar. And on September 14, 2001, mourners at the National Cathedral processed to Isaac Watts's hymn, "O God, Our Help in Ages Past." Two-hundred-thirty-seven years after the drafting of the Declaration of Independence, American belief in -- or hope for -- God's presence in the political realm lives on.