Issues Related to Religion
The rights to privacy and First Amendment freedom of religion have been
raised as constitutional protections for a woman’s right to have an
abortion. But the U.S. Supreme Court disagreed in 2022 when it overturned
precedent linking these rights and upholding a Mississippi law banning
The Supreme Court has ruled in many cases involving government aid to
religious schools. The Court primarily has weighed whether such aid
violates the First Amendment.
Government aid to religious colleges presents several First
Amendment–related issues including employment policies, construction grants
and student scholarships.
In its only animal sacrifice case, the Court said a city ordinance
prohibiting animal sacrifice violated the First Amendment by targeting the
Sometimes state autopsy laws conflict with religious objections to such
procedures, bringing into play First Amendment questions of religious
liberty. Public access to autopsy records of the government have also been
Blasphemy laws punish people who express irreverence for religion and
sacred things. Laws against blasphemy have disappeared in the U.S. because
of the First Amendment.
First Amendment free exercise of religion is in question when medical care
is refused due to religious beliefs. Courts must balance religious rights
and child welfare.
Some have questioned whether the decision to allow preacher Billy Graham’s
body to lie in state at the U.S. Capitol was a violation of the First
Government-funded chaplain programs are one area in which religious rights
of prisoners and military personnel may outweigh First Amendment violations.
Because the government funds charter schools, are they subject to the same
First Amendment restrictions as public schools on prayer and Bible readings?
A judge’s order in a child custody case could implicate the First
Amendment, particularly when the judge forbids a parent from certain
statements that is deemed harmful.
Christian nationalism has played a key role in U.S. history that many think
plays a meaningful role in a country that guarantees religious liberty.
Others are concerned that a more militant phase threatens First Amendment
religious liberty and separation of church and state.
The last state constitution ban on clergy holding public office was
eliminated in Tennessee in 1978 after a First Amendment case that went to
the Supreme Court.
The Court considered conscientious objector cases during the Vietnam War,
weighing when First Amendment freedom protects someone from laws requiring
Can the government restrict gatherings, including church services, during
the coronavirus outbreak or is that a violation of the First Amendment
religious freedom and assembly clauses? The government has broad powers
during a health crisis. As long as restrictions apply equally, and not
single out churches, courts would likely uphold them.
Forcing schools to teach creationism or Intelligent Design is a violation
of the First Amendment’s protection against establishment of religion,
courts have ruled.
Some fear that FEMA’s decision to include churches among the entities that
receive federal disaster aid could erode the First Amendment separation of
church and state.
The Supreme Court has allowed certain types of discrimination by religious
organizations based on the freedom of association rooted in the First
The teaching of evolution has been at the heart of many cases brought under
the establishment clause, the free exercise clause, and the free speech
clause of the First Amendment.
The recent expansion of government funding for faith-based social programs
has sparked concerns about the assistance from a First Amendment standpoint.
The first 16 words of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” protect the right of every person to practice religion in accordance with conscience and guard against creation of a sectarian state. But the precise meaning of these
Court decisions have interpreted the First Amendment establishment clause
as prohibiting prayers in public schools during both school hours and
Federal courts have consistently upheld “In God We Trust” as a national
motto, which when on coins or elsewhere does not violate the establishment
clause of the First Amendment.
Intelligent design is a theory that the universe was designed by an
intelligent higher power. Teaching the theory blurs the lines between
church and state.
The ministerial exception shields churches from improper government
influence by barring legal claims against churches by employees with
religious functions. The line between ministers and others employees by the
church might not always be clear, but is believed to encompass the
The First Amendment would protect a broad, but not unlimited, right for
parents to choose the names of their children based on parental rights over
Polygamy is a practice in which a person is married to more than one person
at the same time. Polygamy raises issues under the free exercise clause of
the First Amendment.
Many Americans are religious and seek to incorporate prayer into public
events. Whether such prayer is allowed under the First Amendment depends on
the nature of the event.
Prayer at public school events can involve three clauses of the First
Amendment: the establishment, the free exercise, and the free speech.
All U.S. states have laws protecting certain communications under the
priest-penitent privilege. The First Amendment is often considered the
basis of such a privilege.
The First Amendment creates lines between public and religious buildings.
The line is not clear because courts have accepted some civil religion in
Public employees have a First Amendment right to speak on matters of public
concern as long as the speech is not outweighed by an the interest in a
The recognition and celebration of religious holidays by government can run
counter to the First Amendment prohibition of government endorsing a
Many early American states required public officeholders to take religious
oaths. In 1961, the Supreme Court said this requirement violated the First
The religious rights of pharmacists to refuse to fill a legal prescription
for emergency contraception, often known as a morning-after pill, has not
made it to the Supreme Court, but changes in abortion law could increase
Before the First Amendment was applied to the states, there was a prominent
idea that witnesses in court trials could only testify if they believed in
God or the afterlife.
The First Amendment rights of prisoners have been sharply curtailed. When
analyzing prisoner speech claims, the Supreme Court has usually deferred to
Public school students enjoy First Amendment protection based on the type
of expression and their age. Students do not shed their First Amendment
rights at the schoolhouse gate.
The Supreme Court has upheld school voucher programs, saying if they are
administered without favoring one religion over another, they do not
violate the First Amendment.
Snake handling is a religious ritual practiced by a small number of
Protestant churches. Laws against the practice have been upheld against
First Amendment challenges.
After an unsuccessful challenge, scholars have debated whether presidents
repeating the words “so help me God” when they take their oath of office
violates the First Amendment.
Before the First Amendment was applied to the states, Christian Sabbath
advocates attacked Sunday mail delivery, saying states should regulate
their own religious affairs.
Through tax exemptions, legislatures have sought to encourage effects of
religious organizations while avoiding First Amendment–based concerns of
excessive government entanglement.
Recently, legal challenges have been brought against public display of the
Ten Commandments for violating establishment clause of the First Amendment.
U.S. relations with Vatican City have stirred concerns among those who fear
that recognition of the city-state could violate the First Amendment’s
separation of church and state.