Our First Amendment experts have compiled and analyzed this library of United States cases and briefs. Many of these cases, and the decisions which ultimately defined them, represent meaningful victories for the cause of religious freedom.
Some might argue the United States was founded on religious freedom—with its first settlers drawn to America’s shores because they were fleeing religious persecution in their home countries.
In those home countries, dominant religions were inextricably linked with government, laying the groundwork for state oppression of religious minorities.
For that reason, in crafting the Bill of Rights in a new nation now populated by diverse religious communities, James Madison recognized the need to ensure religious freedom—a freedom he enshrined in the Constitution in the form of the First Amendment.
As summarized by the Supreme Court of the United States in a seminal opinion on religious liberty: “The Fathers of the Constitution were not unaware of the varied and extreme views of religious sects, of the violence of disagreement among them, and of the lack of any one religious creed on which all men would agree. They fashioned a charter of government which envisaged the widest possible toleration of conflicting views. Man’s relation to his God was made no concern of the state. He was granted the right to worship as he pleased and to answer to no man for the verity of his religious views.” [United States v. Ballard, 322 U.S. 78 (1944)]
The First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause—which provided a shield against government interference in religious practice and belief—was a concept and invention original to America and unlike anything the world had previously known. It is one of the United States’ greatest contributions: the ultimate rejection of the world’s history of religious conflict.
Thanks to the First Amendment, no authority in the United States may decide whether any religious belief is “false,” any religious practice a “deception,” any faith favored or disfavored. As the first U.S. President memorably wrote to the small Jewish congregation in Newport, Rhode Island, “All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the Government of the United States ... gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.”
As the United States’ judicial decisions on the subject of religious freedom are built on the foundation of the First Amendment, so are later decisions built on the foundations of earlier ones, establishing judicial precedent.
In pursuing STAND’s mission to protect everyone’s basic inalienable right to practice their chosen faith, our First Amendment experts have compiled and analyzed this library of religious freedom cases and briefs as a resource for you.
Many of these cases and the decisions which ultimately defined them represent meaningful victories for the cause of religious freedom. They stand in opposition to efforts by some misguided or bigoted individuals and groups who seek to stamp out those freedoms or restrict them to only their own group.
Religious freedom is a precarious thing. It remains under pressure and opposition throughout the world, even in the United States. Only through vigilance and support will it continue to survive.
We each have a responsibility to protect and advance this fundamental human right.
We hope this resource empowers you in that endeavor.