Thomas Jefferson: A Bill for Religious Freedom

PRIMARY RESOURCE Thomas Jefferson wrote the Bill for Religious Freedom for Virginians. He didn't invent the idea of forming a government that protected religious freedom for all its citizens. Jefferson’s thinking was very much a product of the Enlightenment, when many in Europe and America gravitated toward the concept. Jefferson asked that his tombstone record two documents he authored: the Declaration of Independence and the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom.

Religious Diversity in America

WEB RESOURCE This essay by Randall Balmer, professor at Barnard College, Columbia University identifies diversity as one of the fundamental distinguishing features of religious life in North America. Rampant ethnic and religious diversity forced various groups to find some way to coexist. The result was the First Amendment's guarantee of "free exercise" of religion and a proscription against a state church. This set up a kind of free market of religious life in the United States enriched by the diversity of waves of immigrants.

We the People Set Out to Form a More Perfect Union

WEB VIDEO This video provides a brief overview of the ideal of religious freedom in America, how it has evolved and how it has been resisted. The film has been endorsed by the Council for the Parliament of the World's Religions and many First Amendment groups.

A Fluid Boundary: The Free Exercise Clause and the Legislative and Executive Branches

WEB RESOURCE This Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life article highlights ways that American law accommodates the religious beliefs of people.

Introduction to the Establishment Clause

WEB RESOURCE What was the framer's original understanding of the Establishment Clause? Do we want "a wall of separation between church and state?" Is such a wall even possible? How should the Establishment Clause and Free Exercise Clause be reconciled?

Free Exercise of Religion

WEB RESOURCE This site by the University of Missouri-Kansas City constitutional law site managed by Doug Linder asks a basic constitutional question: When may the government enforce a law that burdens an individual's ability to exercise his or her religious beliefs? Background information here is useful to read before analyzing a Supreme Court Case.

The Free Exercise of Religion in America

WEB RESOURCE This Bill of Rights In Action CRF article includes a history of the free exercise clause and Supreme Court cases through current time. It has background, discussion and writing activity on Wisconsin v. Yoder (compulsory schooling case): "What Should the Test Be? A Close-Reading Activity on the Free Exercise Clause." An additional activity "Who Has the Stronger Case? Understanding Religious Freedom Laws in the United States" is also available in downloadable pdf.

James Madison and the Bill of Rights

WEB RESOURCE & LESSON This Constitutional Rights Foundation BRIA article is an overview of why and how the Bill of Rights came to be. The lesson asks student to read and debate the various versions of the religion clauses and select the best one giving reasons why.