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Explanation of the First Amendment to the US Constitution

April 23, 2014

Some explanation for those that don’t quite understand the First Amendment to the US Constitution and how it prohibits favoring one religion over another, or the prominent display of religious icons in government buildings and offices…

The section in question is “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof“, commonly known as the establishment clause. Clearly, promotion of one religion by the state over all others is not the ‘establishment’ of a religion, but just as clearly runs afoul of the “prohibiting the free exercise thereof” portion.

But my opinion or interpretation is essentially meaningless and carries no legal weight. So let’s defer to the ultimate legal authority in the USA, the Supreme Court. SCOTUS has ruled on this issue REPEATEDLY and has continued to AFFIRM that there must not be any favor given to one religion over others, nor to religion over NO religion. That is to say, freedom OF religion includes freedom FROM religion.

Contrary to what the religion lobby may desire, SCOTUS has not only affirmed this principle, but expanded it to also includes the individual states as well. In court case after court case, the principle of separation of church and state has withstood every test.

One of the most important of these tests was Everson v. Board of Education, 330 U.S. 1 (1947). The majority decision, written by Justice Hugo Black, was very clear in its wording. The text of the decision follows:

The ‘establishment of religion’ clause of the First Amendment means at least this: Neither a state nor the Federal Government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions or prefer one religion over another. Neither can force nor influence a person to go to or to remain away from church against his will or force him to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion. No person can be punished for entertaining or professing religious beliefs or disbeliefs, for church attendance or non-attendance. No tax in any amount, large or small, can be levied to support any religious activities or institutions, whatever they may be called, or whatever form they may adopt to teach or practice religion. Neither a state nor the Federal Government can, openly or secretly, participate in the affairs of any religious organizations or groups and vice versa. In the words of Jefferson, the clause against establishment of religion by law was intended to erect ‘a wall of separation between Church and State.'”

There have been many challenges brought by religious groups to try and roll back the scope of the Everson decision. ALL have failed.

So, do you still want to dispute the meaning or intent of the First Amendment? If so, I’d suggest you get some friends together and either become respected lawyers and judges and get nominated to the Supreme Court. Or, show your respect for the founding fathers, constitution and laws of the land by overthrowing the government. Crying or openly displaying your ignorance on the internet probably won’t help.

Additional reading material follows:

First Amendment to the US Constitution:

“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.”


Jefferson Letter to the Danbury Baptists:

To messers. Nehemiah Dodge, Ephraim Robbins, & Stephen S. Nelson, a committee of the Danbury Baptist association in the state of Connecticut.


The affectionate sentiments of esteem and approbation which you are so good as to express towards me, on behalf of the Danbury Baptist association, give me the highest satisfaction. my duties dictate a faithful and zealous pursuit of the interests of my constituents, & in proportion as they are persuaded of my fidelity to those duties, the discharge of them becomes more and more pleasing.

Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church & State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.

I reciprocate your kind prayers for the protection & blessing of the common father and creator of man, and tender you for yourselves & your religious association, assurances of my high respect & esteem.

Th Jefferson

Jan. 1. 1802.


Article 11 of the Treaty of Tripoli:

“As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion, as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen [Muslims],and as the said States never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan [Muslim] nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.”


From → Politics, Religion

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  1. A revisionist First Amendment | The Mind of Brosephus

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