Free Exercise of Religion

Free Exercise of Religion

The right to practice religion, or no religion at all, is among the most fundamental of the freedoms guaranteed by the Bill of Rights. The ACLU works to ensure that this essential freedom is protected by keeping the government out of religion.

Federal, state, and local governments frequently prevent individuals from practicing their faith in a variety of ways. These burdens often disproportionately effect members of minority faiths, who are often forced to remove religious garb in public places, denied basic governmental services or privileges, and generally treated as second-class citizens. 

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Our free exercise work is also relevant in prisons, where prisoners of all faiths are regularly denied critical religious accommodations, such as religious diets, access to religious literature and artifacts, and the ability to express their faith with like-minded individuals. 

Religious organizations and houses of worship may be impeded by local zoning authorities in carrying out their religious missions, and local communities often try to use zoning laws and other legal obstacles to prevent religious minorities, such as Muslims, from building nearby. 

Safeguarding the right of free exercise of religion and individual conscience is of vital importance to the ACLU’s mission.

Additional Resources

ACLU Defense of Religious Practice and Expression: The ACLU vigorously defends the rights of all Americans to practice their religion. But because the ACLU is often better known for its work preventing the government from promoting and funding selected religious activities, it is sometimes wrongly assumed that the ACLU does not zealously defend the rights of all religious believers to practice their faith. The actions described below – over half of which were brought on behalf of self-identified Christians, with the remaining cases defending the rights of a wide range of minority faiths – reveal just how mistaken such assumptions are.

ACLU and NYCLU Statement On Controversy Over New York City Islamic Center (2010 feature): Religious freedom is one of America's most fundamental liberties, and a central principle upon which our nation was founded. For hundreds of years, even in the face of opposition, religious pluralism and tolerance have sustained and helped to define our nation. Still today, we must continue to boldly oppose religious discrimination rooted in cultural stereotyping, and resist those who seek to trade away our most precious values for political advantage.

Souhair Khatib v County of Orange (2011 pdf)

ACLU Files Lawsuit On Behalf Of Muslim Woman Forced To Remove Head Covering In Georgia Courthouse (2010 press release)

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Q & A: The Practice of Hijab (2008 resource)

ACLU Condemns House Panel's Passage of "Public Expression of Religion Act," Calls Bill A Direct Attack on Freedom of Religion (2006 press release)

Report: Blocking Faith, Freezing Charity (2009 resource)

FBI Counterterrorism Unit Spies on Peaceful, Faith-Based Protest Group (2006 press release)

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