Constitutional Law on Religion
If you listen to the Religious Right’s refrain, you might think that religion generally, and Christianity specifically, faces some grave danger in the United States today. The movement’s leaders rebuke “unelected black-robed” federal judges for “kicking God out” of our public schools and, indeed, public life. American Christians, they say, are “persecuted” in their own country. It would be alarming if it were true, but it’s not.
In fact, the very federal court system that these leaders blame for being “hostile” toward religion has preserved the private citizen’s ability to publicly express his or her beliefs. Public school students pray in groups and alone every day. It’s all quite legal, even sanctioned by the United States Supreme Court. As a minister and civil libertarian, I wouldn’t have it any other way. The Supreme Court has also protected every citizen’s right to share his or her beliefs, religious or otherwise, in the public square. I applaud their right to do so and would note that there are few people, at least where I work in Washington, DC, who don’t take advantage of this right.
The First Amendment protects five distinct freedoms: freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and the freedoms to peacefully assemble and petition the government. First on the list of the Amendment’s enumerated rights is religious freedom: a spare sixteen words that guarantee freedom from stateimposed religion and its costs (the Establishment Clause) and the right to freely exercise one’s chosen faith (the Free Exercise Clause). Because religious freedom is the first enumerated right in the Con-