...with Liberty and Justice for ALL

On Religious Freedom
Guarantees for Freethinkers

The Constitution Speaks

United States Constitution, Art. VI, par.3: "…no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."

First Amendment of the Constitution: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…"

The U. S. Supreme Court Speaks

The clearest and most concise explication of the meaning of the separation principle in the First Amendment was contained in Justice Hugo Black’s majority opinion in Everson v. Board of Education, 330 U.S. 1, 1947.

The "establishment of religion" clause of the First Amendment means at least this: Neither a state nor the Federal Government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws that aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion to another. Neither can force nor influence a person to go to or to remain away from church against his will or force him to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion. No person can be punished for entertaining or professing religious beliefs or disbeliefs, for church attendance or non-attendance. In the words of Jefferson, the clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect "a wall of separation between Church and State."

Justice Stewart stated even more strongly the protection of freedom from religion in School District of Abington v. Schempp (374 U.S. 203, no. 142, 1963):

What our Constitution indispensably protects is the freedom of each of us, be he Jew or Agnostic, Christian or Atheist, Buddhist or Freethinker, to believe or disbelieve, to worship or not worship, to pray or keep silent, according to his own conscience, uncoerced and unrestrained by government.

In Torcaso v. Watkins (367 US 488, 1961) Justice Black in his unanimous opinion said:

We repeat and again reaffirm that neither a State nor Federal Government can constitutionally force a person ‘to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion.’ Neither can constitutionally pass laws or impose requirements which aid all religions as against nonbelievers, and neither can aid those religions based on a belief in the existence of God as against those religions founded on different beliefs.

In Epperson v. Arkansas, (393 U.S. 97, 1968), Justice Fortas in his unanimous opinion said:

Government in our democracy, state and national, must be neutral in matters of religious theory, doctrine, and practice. It may not be hostile to any religion or to the advocacy of no-religion; and it may not aid, foster, or promote one religion or religious theory against another or even against the militant opposite. The First Amendment mandates governmental neutrality between religion and religion, and between religion and nonreligion.

In Wallace v. Jaffree, 472 U.S. 38, 1985

The individual’s freedom to choose his own creed is the counterpart of his right to refrain from accepting the creed established by the majority. Moreover, the individual freedom of conscience protected by the First Amendment embraces the right to select any religious faith or none at all.

Professor Joseph Tussman wrote in The Supreme Court on Church and State (1962):

It is, I hope, hardly necessary to add, as we try to understand and deal wisely with the problems of religious freedom, that the freedom and dignity of the nonbeliever—the agnostic or the atheist—is as precious and as much to be protected as that of the believer. Earlier, we would have called ourselves a ‘Christian nation.’ More recently the phrase is a ‘religious nation.’ Someday, we may come to think of ourselves as a spiritual nation, deeply involved in the quest for truth about the nature of the universe and man’s [and woman’s] place in it.

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Last Updated 5/15/2005

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