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CHAPTER 9

The First Amendment: Freedom of Religion

§9.1 INTRODUCTION AND OVERVIEW

The First Amendment provides, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.…” The two clauses of this sentence, commonly referred to as the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause, ostensibly divide the constitutional principle of religious freedom into two doctrinal realms, each with its own particular principles and methods. Stated very generally, the Establishment Clause precludes the government from favoring any particular religion or group of religions, or from preferring religion over nonreligion (though the scope of this limitation is evolving rapidly), while the Free Exercise Clause limits the government's authority to interfere with religious beliefs and practices. Taken together, both Clauses are designed to promote religious freedom by limiting the capacity of the government to become excessively involved in religious matters. Both Clauses apply to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment.

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