Religion is an essential and complex facet of the American psyche. It plays a key role in supporting the ideal of American exceptionalism and has done so from Independence to the present day. Religion also plays a role in national identification through the “Americanisation” of religion. The emergence of transcendentalism, cults, evangelical sects, and Christian Zionism have all been a result of both the “Americanisation” of faith and American exceptionalism. The importance of religion to America as a nation, means that religion is granted certain freedoms that make passing laws regulating it difficult. The first and fourteenth amendments essentially protect the establishment of any religion as well as protecting the freedom to exercise
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Whitman uses the image of a blade of grass to represent the American national as existing everywhere, viewed equally to the other blades of grass and existing collectively as well as individually. In “I Sing the Body Electric” there is a clear sense of equality between the sexes, as demonstrated in “The male is perfect, and that of the female is perfect.” This egalitarian view humanity demonstrates Whitman’s transcendentalist perspective both through the description of both the male and female as equally perfect and by focusing on the purely physical, bodily being, he does not discriminate along racial or class lines. Hence, the disestablishment of state religion in the wake of the first amendment lead to the establishment of religions that are inherently American and as such, portray uniquely American ideals like the emphasis on individualism.
The first amendment allowed a spiritual philosophy like Transcendentalism to arise, but it has also had a key part in allowing cults to emerge and to flourish. The 1944 United States vs. Ballard case marked a significant change in legal approaches towards dealing with cults. The original decision found the leaders of the “I AM” Movement guilty of fraud for collecting funds for a religious cause in which neither believed. The charges were dropped upon appeal, with Justice Douglas citing the first amendment as not referring to a particular religious group, or a type of religion, rather he argued that it