The Establishment And Free Exercise Clauses Essay
The First Amendment is one of the most well-known and commonly debated documents in US history. It reads as follows:
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 to peaceably assemble and to petition the government for a redress of grievances. (“The Constitution.”)
The first two phrases are known as the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause. The Establishment Clause, which states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…”, simply means that Congress cannot institute a national religion or church, as is evidenced by the language of the text. The Free Exercise Clause reads “...or prohibiting the free exercise thereof ...” Again, the text is clear. “Congress shall make no law...prohibiting the free exercise [of religion].” The establishment and free exercise clauses protect the freedom of United States citizens while limiting the power of the federal government; they do not grant the government power over religion, nor do they restrict the free expression or exercise thereof, as is the prominent view today.
The Church of England in the 1500’s and 1600’s was not only the prominent religion of the day, but it was government-sanctioned and supported. If one did not attend a government approved…