How Does the First Amendment Affect the Establishment and Free Exercise of Religion?The first two clauses in the First Amendment prohibit Congress from making laws regarding the establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise of religion.
The exact meaning of the establishment and free exercise clauses has been a topic of fierce debate. Did the Founders intend to build "a wall of separation between Church and State" as Thomas Jefferson asserted? Or did they merely intend to prevent religious persecution and the establishment of one national religion?
When you have finished this lesson, you should be able to explain the importance of religious freedom in the United States and to identify primary differences between the establishment and free exercise clauses. You should be able to describe how the Supreme Court has interpreted the religion clauses, ongoing issues involving those clauses, and how conflicts can arise between the establishment and free exercise clauses. Finally, you should be able to evaluate, take, and defend positions on issues arising from guarantees relating to the establishment and free exercise of religion clauses of the Constitution.