Free Exercise Clause

The First Amendment to the Constitution states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Through its Free Exercise Clause, the First Amendment protects against governmental interference with the individual’s right to freedom of conscience, free expression of religious beliefs and the right to practice the religion of his or her choosing. The clause also protects the rights of churches and religious institutions to pursue their religious missions with no or minimal interference from government authorities.

The Free Exercise Clause thus protects much more than the right to believe; it specifically applies to the exercise of religion. This clause allows a person to hold whatever religious beliefs he or she wants, and to exercise those beliefs by participating in the religious practices of his or her religion, including—but not limited to—religious services, praying in public or in private, proselytizing or wearing religious clothing, such as yarmulkes or headscarves, and joining insulated religious communities and following their religious practices, even if unorthodox.