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Chapter 1: Religious Freedom in the United States .................... 7 Chapter 2: Should Religious Beliefs Outweigh Government Laws? .................................. 31 Chapter 3: Do Religious Displays on Public Property Violate the Separation of Church and State? . .......... 49 Chapter 4: Should Churches Remain Tax Exempt? ................... 67 Chapter 5: Should References to God Be Removed from Money and the Pledge? ............... 85 Series Glossary of Key Terms ................................................... 100 Organizations to Contact . ....................................................... 101 Further Reading . ..................................................................... 102 Internet Resources . ................................................................. 103 Chapter Notes .......................................................................... 104 Index ....................................................................................... 108 Author’s Biography and Credits . ............................................. 112 K E Y I C O N S T O L O O K F O R : Words to Understand: These words with their easy-to-understand definitions will increase the reader’s understanding of the text while building vocabulary skills. Sidebars: This boxed material within the main text allows readers to build knowledge, gain insights, explore possibilities, and broaden their perspectives by weaving together additional information to provide realistic and holistic perspectives. Educational videos: Readers can view videos by scanning our QR codes, providing them with additional educational content to supplement the text. Examples include news coverage, moments in history, speeches, iconic sports moments, and much more! Text-Dependent Questions: These questions send the reader back to the text for more careful attention to the evidence presented there. Research Projects: Readers are pointed toward areas of further inquiry connected to each chapter. Suggestions are provided for projects that encourage deeper research and analysis. Series Glossary of Key Terms: This back-of-the-book glossary contains terminology used throughout this series. Words found here increase the reader’s ability to read and comprehend higher-level books and articles in this field.


blue laws— laws designed to restrict or ban certain activities on Sundays, to promote that day for Christian religious worship. establishment clause— the wording in the First Amendment of the Constitution that prohibits Congress from establishing or favoring any particular religion. free exercise clause— the wording in the First Amendment of the Constitution that prohibits the government from making laws that restrict religious worship or practices. state religion— a religion that is officially endorsed by the government.



Religion has always been an emotional subject, and it has been an important part of most cultures throughout history. Until relatively recently, religious beliefs and governmental activities have always been tightly woven together. Even today, many countries have an official state religion. For example, most

countries in North Africa, the Middle East, and Central Asia recognize Islam as the state region. Israel is defined in its laws as a “democratic Jewish state.” And some countries, like Costa Rica, Malta, and Monaco, still declare a Christian denomination to be the official religion. ORIGINS OF RELIGIOUS FREEDOM Until relatively recently, most of the countries in the world had a state religion . In Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire, this was usually the form of Christianity that was followed by the person or family who ruled that territory. For hundreds of years, most people in western Europe were subjects of the Roman Catholic Church, headed by the pope in Rome. People in eastern Europe followed the teaching of the Eastern Orthodox churches, such as the Greek, Russian,


or Armenian Orthodox churches. In the sixteenth century, the Roman Catholic Church was challenged by protests against abuses by the clergy. People such as Martin Luther, a Roman Catholic monk from Germany, and the Frenchman John Calvin led opposition to certain practices of the Roman Catholic leadership. It was a time of upheaval in Europe. The invention of the printing press made the Bible more available and there was social

In 1517 Martin Luther nailed a list of his complaints about the Roman Catholic Church to the door of a church in Wittenberg, Germany. His call to reform the Church led to a major division of Christianity, known as the Protestant Reformation.

unrest. The time was ripe for a change. The reform movement became known as the Protestant Reformation. The rulers of Europe’s many small kingdoms and principalities either defended Catholicism or adopted the teachings of one of the Protestant denominations: the Lutherans, Calvinists, Presbyterians, Baptists, and so on. Fueled in part by religious differences, conflicts between


Contemporary Issues: Religious Freedom

Europe’s kingdoms occurred regularly. From 1618 until 1648, the states of central Europe waged a devastating conflict known as the Thirty Years’ War. In the 1530s, King Henry VIII of England broke away from the Roman Catholic Church after a disagreement. He seized control of Church property and assets in England, and handed them over to his newly formed Church of England (also called the Anglican Church). As the Anglican Church took shape, it retained many Catholic practices in worship but adopted some Protestant attitudes, too.

Soldiers loot a conquered city during the Thirty Years’ War (1618 – 1648). Religious warfare in Europe drove colonists to North America, where they sought the freedom to worship as they wanted without being threatened.


Religious Freedom in the United States

In England and elsewhere, those who wished to follow a religion other than the ruler’s were often persecuted for their beliefs. In Roman Catholic France, Protestants known as Huguenots were often tormented or attacked. Many of them ended up moving to Protestant countries, or settling in French colonies in North America where they were less likely to face persecution. In Protestant England, meanwhile, anyone who wanted to follow a religion other than the Church of England was treated with hostility. This included people who wished to retain the Roman Catholic faith that their families had held for centuries, or those who subscribed to other Protestant denominations, such as the Religious Society of Friends (also known as Quakers). RELIGIOUS FREEDOM IN COLONIAL AMERICA Many of the British colonies in North America were established by people who wanted greater freedom to observe religious beliefs other than those of the mainstream Anglican Church. Among the first to arrive for this purpose were known as the Puritans. They wanted to “purify” the Church of England by eliminating certain Roman Catholic practices and influences. A group of Puritans known as the Pilgrims traveled to America on the small ship Mayflower in 1620, establishing the Plymoth colony in present-day Massachusetts. Ten years later, in 1630, more than 700 Puritans traveled to North American to establish the Massachusetts


Contemporary Issues: Religious Freedom

A Pilgrim leader says a prayer before the first Thanksgiving meal in the colony, which was shared with local Native Americans in 1621. The purpose of Thanksgiving was to thank God for the colony’s successful harvest.

Bay Colony. Over the next ten years, about 20,000 more Puritans landed in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. However, although the Puritans came to America to escape persecution and to have religious freedom, they did not necessarily want to extend that freedom for other people. They passed strict laws based on Puritan teachings, and those who broke them were punished or expelled from the colony. One of those who was expelled was a Puritan minister named Roger Williams. He was shunned due to his controversial beliefs, so be broke away and started the new colony that would become Rhode Island. Williams was one of the first to propose the idea of “separation of church and


Religious Freedom in the United States

state.” The charter of government that Williams created for Rhode Island was the first constitution that did not include reference to an official church. By signing, the Rhode Island settlers agreed “to subject ourselves in active and passive obedience to all such orders or agreements as shall be made for public good...only in civil things.” 1 Rhode Island also passed laws prohibiting religious persecution. Another colony that allowed freedom of religion was Maryland, established in 1632. The proprietor of

Enslaved people from West Africa brought the Islamic religion, as well as traditional African religions, to North America. However, they often had to practice their religions in secret.


Contemporary Issues: Religious Freedom

the colony, Lord Baltimore, encouraged English people who still wished to practice the Roman Catholic faith were encouraged to settle there. In 1649, the Maryland Toleration Act was passed. It protected Roman Catholics in the colony, as well as other Christians. Most of the other colonies also permitted freedom of religion, but they also tended to favor the Protestant Christian denominations. Non-Christian sometimes faced severe punishment. By the time of the American Revolution, there were different religious ideas throughout the colonies. As the Founding Fathers created a new federal government, they hoped to avoid the sort of religious warfare that had occurred among the European states. The idea of religious freedom was so important that it was included in the first sentence of the First Amendment to the US Constitution: 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. 2 The first part of the Amendment says that the government can not establish any particular religion as the official state religion, or favor one religion over another one. This is called the establishment clause . Another element of the Amendment is the free exercise clause, which says that people have a right to believe as they wish, and to practice any religion they want, or to not practice any religion at all.


Religious Freedom in the United States

In the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries, most Americans were Christians. Because of this, Christian religious displays and signs in public buildings were common, and political leaders often referred to their personal beliefs when running for office. No particular Christian denomination was designated as an official national religion, but by being in the majority Christians had a lot of influence over government and American society. Schools and government offices closed for religious

A famous image of George Washington praying at Valley Forge. Although he was a Christian, as a public leader Washington encouraged tolerance and respect of all religions.


Contemporary Issues: Religious Freedom

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