By Charles Kiker
Freedom of Religion is the first of five topics in the very first amendment to the United States Constitution. It is the first freedom among many.
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” There are two clauses in this promise: the establishment clause and the free exercise clause. While I do not believe these two clauses are contradictory, they are, I think intentionally, set side by side in tension.
The establishment clause, as it has been interpreted by the Supreme Court time and again, prohibits the state from sponsoring or favoring one religion over another. “Congress shall make no law. . . .” Some have interpreted this to mean that this clause applies only to the federal government, and not to state and local governments. At least one member of the Supreme Court, Clarence Thomas I think, favors this interpretation. According to that interpretation, the federal government cannot establish an official religion, but the states can if they wish. In Mississippi the state religion could be Baptist, the Southern Baptist version of course. And Utah could be officially Mormon, etc. But the 14th amendment, as interpreted by the Supreme Court, provides that the Bill of Rights applies to all citizens of all the states. (more…)