Protecting Your Freedom of Religion
Religious freedom has a complicated and inconsistent history in America. Even though your personal right to practice religion is baked into the First Amendment, the outcomes of cases involving religious freedom aren’t always the same. That’s why it’s essential to understand how the “separation of church and state” manifests in America, especially going into the holiday season.
The Origins of Religious Freedom
America was largely founded on the need to be free of religious persecution. Our Founding Fathers understood this when they drafted the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. The First Amendment, which is part of America’s bedrock, states:
“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.”
-The First Amendment
The government cannot establish any religion nor can it infringe on an individual’s right to practice whatever faith they wish. The government cannot penalize you for practicing any given faith or choosing to abstain from faith altogether. Keeping government out of the equation is the best way to protect our personal freedoms, especially those within the purview of religious expression.
Religion In the Workplace
The exercise of religion in the workplace is a fairly straightforward subject. The Civil Rights Act of 1964, specifically Title VII, states that employers may not discriminate against their employees on the basis of religion. This prohibition also applies to cases when employers refuse to make reasonable accommodations for religious practices so long as undue hardship isn’t imposed upon the business.
Religion in Schools
Practicing religion in schools is a little trickier than in workplaces. Generally speaking, as long as the school isn’t taking an official stance on or actively involved in religious practices, religious practices are typically accepted. Here’s a quick rundown of the sorts of religious expression permitted and denied in schoolyards.
Public schools cannot:
- Teach religion
- Start the day with prayers
- Offer prayers during graduation
Religion CAN be practiced in school when:
- Individuals pray if they’re not disrupting normal school activities
- Students organize religious clubs if:
- Clubs don’t meet during school hours
- School officials aren’t involved
- School facilities are equally available to all student groups
It gets more complicated when dealing with holiday celebrations. For example, engaging in activities with stockings and presents is typically okay because that’s something most Americans do during the winter holidays. However, creating and displaying nativity scenes on school grounds is most likely not permitted.
While the inconsistency of court rulings in regards to religious freedom in America isn’t always consistent or fair, don’t be afraid to embrace your faith! You and your family are protected by the Constitution when you practice your religion on a daily basis. So, go into this holiday season embracing your religious freedom with pride!
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