Are Free to Exercise.
United States History
is an inalienable right. At the heart of what it means to be an
American citizen, religious liberty includes the right to freely
practice any religion or no religion without government coercion
or control. This was true in the decades before the Declaration
of Independence, when many people came to North America to escape
religious persecution in Europe. This was true in 1791 when the
Bill of Rights was ratified in a predominantly Protestant country.
It is true today. Expanding religious pluralism in today's society
challenges and affirms America's belief in freedom of conscience.
is the freedom of every citizen to reach, hold, practice and change
beliefs according to the dictates of conscience. The Free Exercise
Clause prohibits governmental interference with religious belief
and, within limits, religious practice. The Supreme Court traditionally
has required governmental bodies to demonstrate a compelling interest
of the "highest order" before they may interfere with religious
conduct. Government must demonstrate that the means by which it
seeks to address its compelling interest are the least restrictive
possible of religious conduct.
provides five cases in which an individual's freedom of conscience
comes into conflict with the interests of the larger society. Students
will hear the arguments put forth by plaintiffs and defendants in
each case, then deliberate on what limits if any may
be placed on religious expression.
liberty, or freedom of conscience, is an inalienable right.
- It is the
duty of the government to guard and respect the individual's freedom
of conscience and belief.
- The Free
Exercise Clause of the First Amendment provides that government
will neither advance nor inhibit religious expression.
- The only
reasons for government to impose laws and regulations are secular.
- No one will
be coerced by government to support or participate in any religion
or in its exercise.
- The First
Amendment affirms the freedom of the individual.
- The First
Amendment tells the government to keep its "hands off" our religion,
our ideas, our ability to express ourselves.
- Other people
have rights, too.
- When rights
collide, government must balance them.
drafting his preliminary proposals for a Bill of Rights, wrote in
1789: "The civil rights of none shall be abridged because of religious
belief or worship, nor shall any national religion be established,
nor shall the full and equal rights of conscience be in any manner
or in any pretext, infringed.
not limited to things that do not matter much. That would be a mere
shadow of freedom. The test of its substance is the right to differ
as to things that touch the heart of the existing order.
In 1943, U.
S. Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson wrote in the Pledge of
Allegiance case: "If there is any fixed star in our constitutional
constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe
what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other
matters of opinion, or force citizens to confess by word or act
their faith therein."
In 1962, Supreme
Court Justice Tom Clark wrote: "The place of religion in our society
is an exalted one, achieved through a long tradition of reliance
on the home, the church and the inviolable citadel of the individual
heart and mind. We have come to recognize through bitter experience
that it is not within the power of government to invade that citadel,
whether its purpose or effect be to aid or oppose, to advance or
retard. In the relationship between man and religion, the State
is firmly committed to a position of neutrality."
quotations. What are James Madison, one of the Founding Fathers
and author of the Bill of Rights, and Supreme Court Justices Robert
Jackson and Tom Clark saying about government's relation to individuals
and their religious beliefs?
students' suggestions on the board and establishing key ideas, present
the following situation to students.
boy becomes ill. His parents, David and Ginger Twitchell, do not
seek traditional medical assistance. Instead, as members of the
Christian Science Church, they rely on prayer and faith as their
church teaches. Several times the child appears to get better, so
the parents believe their prayers and the prayers of the Christian
Science practitioner with whom they are consulting are working.
dies on April 8, 1986, of peritonitis from a congenital bowel obstruction
after five days of being ill. The parents are charged with involuntary
v. David and Ginger Twitchell (1990, Mass.) is heard before
a criminal trial court in Boston, Mass. The jury will find the parents
innocent or guilty in the death of their 2½-year-old son Robyn.
Manslaughter, a lesser charge than murder, means unlawful killing
of a person without the intention for that to occur.
these questions with your students.
- Do the parents
have a right to exercise their religious beliefs? In their mind,
the practitioner and their prayers are equal to - in fact, better
than - a physician and medicine.
- What is
the state's responsibility for the welfare of children? What is
parens patriae (parent of his country)?
- What freedoms
and responsibilities are in conflict in this case? Background
on religious-freedom cases involving children, this case and the
decision in Massachusetts is provided for
There are no
easy answers. The American Medical Association; congregants of Church
of Christ, Scientist; the National District Attorneys Association;
members of the Followers of Christ Church and the General Assembly
and Church of the First Born; and the Academy of American Pediatrics
haven't been able to agree on an answer. The courts continue to
balance conflicting interests, legal precedents, religious tenets
and state laws in cases that involve sick children, parents who
reject conventional medical care because of their religious convictions
and the state's parens patriae role.
to students that religious pluralism in the United States today
goes beyond the Protestant, Catholic and Jewish pluralism of the1950s.
The United States census does not include a question about religion;
however, reports from organizations and surveys, enable the World
Almanac and online
sources to estimate the statistics on religious groups in
the United States. You might discuss how religious affiliations
of members of Congress reflect the pluralism of the country. (You
might compare the religious affiliations of members of the first
Congress with those of the current
Congress.)What do students understand about the cultural and
religious diversity of the United States, their own community
and their school?
- Review the
Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment with the class. It
reads "Congress shall make no law … prohibiting the free exercise
[of religion]." Conduct a brief class discussion of the importance
of the Free Exercise Clause. What benefits does guaranteeing such
a freedom have? Help students understand that religious intolerance
throughout history has led to conflict and violation of individual
rights. Guaranteeing religious freedom helps to promote respect
for differences. Furthermore, what one believes about religion
underlies what one believes about many other aspects of the world
and human relations. Thus, freedom of religion helps protect intellectual
freedom more generally. Discuss the fact that the framers believed
that religion was essential to developing the kind of character
needed by citizens in a free society. Do students agree with this
- First Amendment
rights do have limits. In the
case of the right to exercise one's religious beliefs, this is
particularly true when it comes to actions based on religious
beliefs as opposed to the beliefs themselves. Ask students to
think about how far outside the mainstream religious groups can
venture and still be protected by the First Amendment.
religions that worship multiple gods legally permitted? (Yes.)
about religious worship that involves handling poisonous snakes
by both adults and children? (Children should not be subjected
to the risk of death; adults make up their own minds.)
about a religion that holds that each man should have more
than one wife? (No, polygamy is illegal everywhere in the
- Tell students
they will now have the opportunity to judge real issues that have
arisen concerning freedom of conscience and religious expression.
may wish to conclude by discussing significant themes that emerge
from these cases.
following two quotations address one such theme: It is evident
through the cases included in this study and others involving
the Free Exercise Clause that laws should not be written to
target a particular religious practice.
To satisfy the commands of the First Amendment, a law
restrictive of religious practice must advance interests
of the 'highest order,' and must be narrowly tailored
in pursuit of those interests."
v. Paty, 435 U.S., quoting Wisconsin v. Yoder
law that targets religious conduct for distinctive treatment
or advances legitimate governmental interests only against
conduct with a religious motivation will survive strict
scrutiny only in rare cases."
of Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah (1993)
in this quotation is a second example of a theme emerging
from study of these cases: Government officials must be sure
that laws and regulations are instituted only for secular,
not religious, reasons.
Free Exercise Clause] commits government itself to religious
tolerance, … all officials must pause to remember their
own high duty to the Constitution and to the rights it
secures. Those in office must be resolute in resisting
importunate demands and must ensure that the sole reasons
for imposing the burdens of law and regulation are secular."
Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah
- Ask students
to write an essay on one of the following topics:
Supreme Court's role in securing individual rights.
and intolerance toward religious groups in America.
conflict between free exercise of one's religious convictions
and society's responsibility to its minors.
Constitution and religious liberty. You may ask students to
identify divergent viewpoints and to analyze the judiciary's
role in reconciling them. Students may include in their essays
one of the above quotations or a quotation from the case they
the teaching of creationism and evolution in high school biology
courses. Study Edwards v. Aquillard, 482 U.S. 578 (1987)
in which the Supreme Court found that state law requiring equal
treatment for creationism is unconstitutional because it has a
Explore the role religion has played in American history and
society. Timothy Smith, professor of history at the Johns Hopkins
University, compiled a list of 29 significant religious influences
in the history of the United States. Download Finding
Common Ground. Chapter 8 provides the list and resources
and the American Revolution
on TeacherServe from the National Humanities Center.
and the Founding of the American Republic
online exhibit of the Library of Congress. Outstanding resource
providing an overview that is rich with artifacts, original documents
and links to significant resources.
and the Founding of the American Republic: Religion and the Congress
of the Confederation, 1774-89
This Library of Congress online exhibit looks at the Continental-Confederation Congress. "The amount of energy that Congress invested in encouraging the practice of religion in the new nation exceeded that expended by any subsequent American national government." Content includes why chaplains of different denominations were appointed.
project was established at Harvard University to study and document
the growing religious diversity of the United States. Contains
articles, workshop information and links.
calendar of primary sacred times for world religions. One way
to become acquainted with a religious tradition is to study its
Expressions of Hindu Devotion
Curriculum material developed by the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery. Video, posters and lesson plans with activities. Includes an online educator's guide to Puja, which is the act of showing reverence to a god or aspects of the divine in Hindu worship.
Children From State Science
A footnoted article that documents cases in which parents who did not use standard medical procedure for their ill children who died were taken to court. The author questions whether these charges of neglect are fair in "one of the major battlegrounds of religious freedom."
Shall Take Up Serpents
An All Things Considered broadcast (transcript or RealAudio) about believers in the Appalachians who have incorporated handling serpents and drinking strychnine into their religious beliefs and practice. All but two southern states have outlawed the practice. Produced by David Isay, Sound Portraits.
Standard 3: Understands the sources, purposes, and functions of
law, and the importance of the rule of law for the protection of
individual rights and the common good.
8: Understands the central ideas of American constitutional government
and how this form of government has shaped the character of American
History, Standard 8: Understands the institutions and practices
of government created during the Revolution and how these elements
were revised between 1787 and 1815 to create the foundation of the
American political system based on the U.S. Constitution and the
Bill of Rights.
Religious Studies: Study the impact
of Supreme Court decisions on religious beliefs, marriage and the