The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states that “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.” As enshrined in the First Amendment, religious freedom includes two complementary protections: the right to religious belief and expression and a guarantee that the government neither prefers religion over non-religion nor favors particular faiths over others. These dual protections work hand in hand, allowing religious liberty to thrive and safeguarding both religion and government from the undue influences of the other.
From our foundational work on behalf of conscientious objectors to our historic defense of John T. Scopes during the infamous “Scopes Monkey Trial” of 1925, the ACLU has been the national leader in the struggle for religious freedom. Building on that near-century of work, the ACLU employs an integrated strategy of litigation, public education, and advocacy to protect religious liberty.
What You Need To Know
- 81%Eighty-one percent of Americans say the law should not allow companies or other institutions to use religious beliefs to decide whether to offer a service to some people and not others.
- 3,5003,500 groups make up the American religious landscape.
- All AmericansThe ACLU vigorously defends the rights of all Americans, from Christians to members of minority faiths, to practice their religion.
Recognizing the importance of religious freedom, our founders enshrined in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution a guarantee that the government neither prefers religion over non-religion nor favors particular faiths over others. Religious freedom thrives when the government stays out of religion; matters of religious belief should be left to individuals and faith communities, not to governments or political majorities.
Public schools should not be in the business of promoting particular religious beliefs or activities, and they should protect children from being coerced by others to accept religious (or anti-religious) beliefs.
With increasing frequency, we are seeing individuals and institutions claiming a right to discriminate—by refusing to provide services to women and LGBT people—based on religious objections.
The right to practice religion, or no religion at all, is among the most fundamental of the freedoms guaranteed by the Bill of Rights.
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