freedom of religion

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The right to choose a religion (or no religion) without interference by the government. Freedom of religion is guaranteed by the First Amendment (see also First Amendment) to the Constitution. (See separation of church and state.)

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The New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition Copyright © 2005 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.


What is freedom of religion?

Freedom of religion is the right to practice any or no religion without the government interfering.

A religion is a set of beliefs about how the universe works. Judaism, Islam, and Christianity are examples of religions.

In the United States, the right to freedom of religion is guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States through the First Amendment. Freedom of religion means that Americans are free to practice any religion they want or no religion at all and the government will not interfere.

Additionally, the government cannot establish a state religion nor can it favor any religion when making laws. Finally, the government cannot pass laws that unfairly target a particular religion over others. While the Constitution only forbids the federal government from interfering with religious practices, state laws also largely grant religious freedom as well.

In practice, freedom of religion means that public schools cannot teach religious scripture. The United States government also cannot pass a law forbidding a specific religious group from building a space for worship. For example, the government cannot bar Muslims in the US from building a mosque.

Freedom of religion is a popular right in America today, but it’s also controversial. The courts have often struggled with how broadly or narrowly to extend freedom of religion. The Supreme Court has often had to balance preventing the government from infringing on religious freedom with not allowing citizens to cite freedom of religion in order to ignore laws they don’t agree with. For example, the courts are still divided on whether marriage-related businesses can deny service to same-sex couples on religious grounds even though same-sex marriage is legal nationwide.

Why is freedom of religion important?

In the United States, the right to freedom of religion is protected by the First Amendment of the Constitution, ratified in 1791. According to the amendment, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

Although the amendment only mentions Congress, the Supreme Court has ruled that no government body can interfere with religious freedoms. As well, the amendment’s use of free exercise has been interpreted to mean that both religious acts and religious beliefs are protected.

Defense of religious freedom was very important to many Founding Fathers. After all, many of the original British colonists were fleeing religious persecution. The defense of religious freedom was especially important to James Madison, the author of the First Amendment. Madison had fought at length for religious freedom in his home state of Virginia and continued to do so when proposing the Bill of Rights.

Did you know … ?

Freedom of religion also applies to people with no religion at all. The government cannot unfairly punish a person for being an atheist or an agnostic.

What are real-life examples of freedom of religion?

Source: http://www.religious-symbols.net/

Pictured above are a variety of religious symbols. Freedom of religion allows you to freely practice any religion you want.

In general, Americans cherish the right to freedom of religion.

Quiz yourself!

The right to freedom of religion is established in which constitutional amendment?

How to use freedom of religion in a sentence