What Is the Future of Religious Freedom in the United States
A Moment Magazine and Religious Freedom Education Project Symposium 222 Years Ago, The First Amendment to the Constitution Declared: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof… Under the First Amendment of the Constitution, religious freedom in the United States has two components: the Establishment Clause, which prevents the government from advocating a particular religion; and the Free Exercise Clause, which ensures freedom of belief and worship. Despite these robust protections, perhaps the most of any country in the world, religious freedom in the United States has always been fraught with controversy: What happens when religious practice conflicts with secular law? How much religion should be allowed in the public sphere? What if religious liberty leads to discrimination against minority groups? In this way, religious freedom has always been a balancing act, and the constant recalibration of this balance has largely played out in the courts. Two important Supreme Court cases in recent decades, Sherbert v. Verner (1963) and Employment Division v. Smith (1990), highlight this ongoing battle. Although the first case strengthened religious liberty by listing a set of criteria the government had to meet before limiting free exercise, the second rolled these criteria back, making it easier for the government to restrict religious practice when it conflicts with the law. The Employment Division decision—delivered by Justice Antonin Scalia—still stands, and shapes much of today’s discussion about religious liberty, from birth control to gay rights. This symposium—which includes 11 thinkers who address issues facing Jews, Protestants, Catholics, Muslims and non-believers—explores the contested issues looming on our horizon and examines where religious freedom in the United States is heading in the near future.