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Religious liberty is a favored value under the United States Constitution. The Constitution provides two-fold protection to religious liberty by means of the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause. The Establishment Clause, sometimes referred to as the separation of church and state, requires that the government maintain a course of complete official neutrality toward religion. The government cannot favor one religion over another, nor can it favor religion over non-religion. The Free Exercise Clause is a textual guarantee of peoples' right to practice their religion and to hold and act on religious beliefs. The First Amendment's guarantee of freedom of speech provides some additional protection to religious speech and to the right of religious adherents to spread the message of their faith.

In this paper, I will first explain how the Establishment Clause protects religious liberty, especially that of minority religions and non-believers, against governmental action benefitting more conventional religion. I will then discuss the additional, if somewhat limited, protection of religious liberty under the Free Exercise Clause and the protection of religious speech under the First Amendment.

The most interesting part of the paper will discuss the interaction between the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause. Specifically, it will discuss how the government can include the religious with the secular in the distribution of governmental benefits, and how the government can take action that is precisely tailored to protect he religious liberty of individuals and religious institutions.


Constitutional Law | Religion Law