The First Amendment to the United States Constitution states:
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 peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
This is generally taken as a limitation on the power of the federal government with respect to:
Free Exercise Clause
The Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution states that:
- "Congress shall make no law ... prohibiting the free exercise" of religion.
This provision has been applied against the states also, thereby prohibiting some types of government interference with the exercise of religion. However, government interference is permitted under some circumstances. For example, In Employment Division v. Smith (1990), the Supreme Court ruled that using illegal drugs in a religious ceremony is illegal.
In recent years conservative majorities on the Supreme Court have used Free Exercise to permit religious activities in public places, such as schools, that liberals want to ban using the Establishment clause. The line is that religious activities sponsored by the government or public schools are not allowed, but religious activities sponsored by private citizens using public facilities are allowed. Furthermore the government is not allowed to discriminate against religious activities because of their religious content when such activities would otherwise be allowed. That is a student group with religious goals cannot be banned if an identical group with nonreligious goals is not banned.
To those who cite the First Amendment as reason for excluding God from more and more of our institutions and everyday life, may I just say: The First Amendment of the Constitution was not written to protect the people of this country from religious values; it was written to protect religious values from government tyranny. --- Ronald Reagan
Liberals often focus on the "Establishment clause", arguing that because the federal government cannot endorse or establish a religion, the state must remain neutral, or even hostile towards religion. However, liberals often overlook the clause explicitly allowing for the free exercise of religion, also known as the Free Exercise Clause. Conservatives argue that this clause can be interpreted to allow much more leeway to the majority of religious Americans than liberals currently allow, and that it provides legislators with great flexibility in supporting the ends of Christian faith, as long as all other religious denominations are equally supported. The fact that Congress may pass no law establishing or respecting a particular Christian denomination provides the federal government with the freedom to support a variety of Judaeo-Christian ventures, notably the faith-based initiatives enacted under President Bush.
American liberals have attempted to use the so-called Fairness Doctrine and political correctness in order to silence conservative and libertarian viewpoints and to promote divisive views. These ideologically-motivated attempts to limit free speech are in direct violation of the First Amendment, specifically, and, by extension, the entire U.S. Constitution.