By Andrew Hoagland


In Federalist 10, James Madison argued that given the intrinsic cultural differences among American society, including deep religious divides, a republic was necessary to prevent the infringement of the rights of the people at the behest of a particular faction or tyrannical multitude. To further the ideal of religious liberty, the Framers immortalized it in the First Amendment of the Constitution, which Thomas Jefferson described as a “wall of separation between church and state.” In order to protect religious liberty in an increasingly diverse and multicultural, the Supreme Court must vigorously and faithfully enforce the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses of the First Amendment.


As a prohibition of government-sponsored religious discrimination, the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,” is a robust bulwark of religious liberty. In the past half-century, the court has adopted a broad interpretation of the Establishment Clause, fulfilling Jefferson’s promise of a “wall of separation.” For example, the Lemon Test, established in Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971), is a three-pronged test used to assess statutes that may violate the clause to ensure they are secular, neither promote or prohibit religion and do not foster “excessive government entanglement in religion.” By applying this standard to future cases, the Supreme Court has upheld religious liberty against a slew of state laws attempting to publicly endorse a particular religion, such as school prayer and government funding for explicitly religious organizations.


Whereas the Establishment Clause prohibits the government from promoting any sort of religious activity, the Free Exercise Clause prohibits government persecution of a religious group by providing for exemptions from certain laws if they violate the dearly-held beliefs of any religious group. For instance, the court held in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission (2017), that compelling a Christian baker to produce a cake that violated their dearly-held philosophical was an unconstitutional violation of the Free Exercise Clause, as the baker did not receive due process under the state’s anti-discrimination laws. Given the increasing diversification of America and emphasis on the protection of other marginalized groups, it is imperative that the court favor neither group. Rather, it must give procedural due process to each affected party so that they may exercise their liberties, religious and secular, without the interference of the government or third party so that the Free Exercise Clause may continue to proliferate the religious liberties of the American people.


To maintain the legitimacy of our republican ideals, religious liberty must be upheld via the First Amendment, so that the sacrifice of our forefathers, who came to America seeking a safe haven for religious tolerance, will not be in vain.