“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.”
The First Amendment to the United States Constitution was adopted December 15th, 1791. It protects some of the most important rights Americans enjoy today – including the freedom of the people to practice religion any way they want.
What is Freedom of Religion?
The First Amendment prevents the government from making a national religion. Many other countries have laws that make one official religion and don’t allow any others. For example, nations like Saudi Arabia mandate that Islam is the country’s official religion, and people who do not follow the commands of Islamic law could be jailed or otherwise punished by the Saudi government.
While some countries do not establish a state religion, they do have laws that prevent some people from practicing their faith. The Chinese government is known for its treatment of both Christians and Muslims. They imprison Christians for talking about their faith in public. And over the past few years, they have arrested Chinese Muslims and kept them in concentration camps. The founding fathers of the United States wanted to make sure the US government could never become like China and other nations.
Why is this Right Protected?
The Puritans and pilgrims who traveled to North America in the early 1600s were fleeing religious persecution at the hands of England’s government. These individuals embraced Christian beliefs that were not in line with the Church of England, and so they were subject to brutal treatment.
In 1779, Thomas Jefferson – who was then governor of Virginia – wrote a bill to protect religious freedom. Unfortunately, it did not pass. But later, in 1791, it was made into law through the First Amendment. There have been many discussions since then about what type of religious practices should be allowed. But for the most part, Americans living today do not need to fear persecution from the government based on their religion.