The First Amendment: Freedom of Religion

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Updated: May 05, 2020
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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. Freedom of religion means that all men are free to have their personal options in choosing a religion to follow. That men should not be punished because of the religion they follow. That the government should not favor a religion and make it a priority for the people to follow that specific religion. American founders did not want the government to have religious power, they wanted each individual to be free to choose any religion they choose to follow (Brannen 2011). The Americans have developed restrictions on government in order for individuals to preserve the right to hold religious beliefs (U.S. History in Context n.a.). Religious persecution was widely practiced on the Jews, and disagreements of religions would repeatedly flare up into wars. When settlers would arrive in America in the 17th century, the settlers brought with them religious disputes, and even ongoing ones within England. In Massachusetts the Puritans established a government based on their system of beliefs, they imposed it among the European settlers. The citizens were taxed to support the churches, of the government beliefs, and only church members could vote or hold office. The Puritans had little sympathy for any non established churches among them.

Any resident that did not support the religion of the government then would be persecuted with fines, beaten, or banished. 1649, the Toleration Act was passed by a local representative assembly. The Toleration Act was the only modest step to religious freedom. During the 18th century, the individuals in Virginia agreed to register with courts and obtain licenses that allowed them to practice their faith. Jefferson’s written law for religious freedom remains a basic statement of Americans. “”…all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion…”” Lee v. Weisman involved a public middle school that allowed a rabbi to offer prayers at the graduation ceremonies (Brannen 2011). Deborah and Mr. Weisman did not want to hear the prayer at the graduation, days before the ceremony, Mr. Weisman filled a lawsuit to prevent the school from hearing the prayers. Robert E. Lee disagreed with Mr. Weisman, and did invite the rabbi to deliver the prayers at the graduation (U.S. History in Context n.a.). The court did deni Mr. Weismans request, because the court was not given enough time to consider it (Brannen 2011). The Court however did agree to look further into it, and to decide if public schools should use prayers at future graduation ceremonies. Robert E. Lee appealed to the U.S. Court, the court ruled against the prayers, and that’s when Lee appealed to the Supreme Court.

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Overall the Court ruled that the Establishment Clause prevents the government from favoring religion, prayers in public schools would not be acceptable. The Court did make it clear that now graduation prayers our now considered in the position of the students, both of those who desire prayer and those who do not (U.S. History in Context n.a.). Wisconsin v. Yoder involved three Amish parents that rebelled against the Wisconsin law. (U.S. History in Context, 2001). The Wisconsin law demanded that children needed to go to school until they reached the age of sixteen. The State government believed that educated children grow up to be hard working adults, and working adults help states to remain strong. The Wisconsin law interrupted Amish culture. It is very common for Amish children to only go to school through the eighth grade because they spend the rest of their “”school days”” learning how to be apart of the Amish community.

Three Amish parents kept their fourteen and fifteen year olds at home to teach them how to be apart of the Amish community. Wisconsin filed criminal charges against the parents, at the trial the parents argued that the law violated the First Amendment. The Court rejected the parents defense, found the guilty, and fined them five dollars each. The Court’s argument was that Wisconsin’s interest in education was more important that the freedom of religion. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of Amish, Warren E Burger, the Chief Justice, said that “”their interest was not necessarily more important than the freedom of religion.”” Warren E Burger decided that he would do a three part test. The first part was deciding if the Amish beliefs were sincere. The answer was “”yes.”” The second part is whether the Wisconsin law interfered with Amish religion. Warren E Burger included that if Amish children were to continue to go to school after the eighth grade, then the Amish way might disappear. Having the Amish way disappear could be the worst kind of interference with the freedom or religion. The third part was balancing Wisconsin’s interest in education against the freedom of religion.

Wisconsin argued that education was more important because without it, the children would not grow up to be hard working adults to help remain a strong state. Warren E Burger rejected Wisconsin’s argument, he saw that even though Amish children only attended school through the eighth grade, they were trained on farms, and grew up to be hard working adults in the Amish community. The Supreme Court decided that the Amish religious freedom was more important than Wisconsin’s interest in requiring additional education past the eighth grade. Interpretation of the First of Amendment has now changed because of many cases like such. In a situation religion will most likely be chosen over another thing such as school, because of the Freedom of religion being in the Constitution.

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The First Amendment: Freedom of Religion. (2020, May 05). Retrieved from