GOVT 2301
Week Fourteen
Readings, Notes, and Assignment

Religious Freedom


- History of Religious Freedom in America
- Minersville School District v. Gobitis
- West Virginia State Board of Education v Barnette

The Bill of Rights starts with two limitations on Congress directly related to religion. Congress can neither establish a religion nor prohibit free exercise. One way to understand what these mean is to note that King Henry the 8th established the Anglican religion as the official religion of England and put himself in charge of it. In order to ensure that they stayed in command, people who practiced other religious beliefs were commonly prevented from being involved politically due to fears that they would undermine the authority of the Anglican Church -- a correct assumption generally.

The inclusion of the two clauses related to religion was an effort to ensure that the unrest common in Britain would not disrupt America. Though no civil wars based on religious differences have occurred in America, conflicts over religion are common features of American politics. Though we tend to agree with the principles of religious freedom, we tend to not practice it. Whats more, we tend to rethink previous positions quite often due to the uncertainly that exists in the general population about what it means to be religiously free.

The two court cases above, as well as the historical essay, demonstrate this tension. In it you will see two conflicting positions articulated--only three years apart--as to whether one religion's interpretation of the Biblical commandment not to worship graven images included the American flag.

For both internet and lecture students--paper assignment: Please review these two courts cases and contrast them in at least 250 words. They involve the degree to which individual free exercise rights trump the imposition of certain practices by government. You will note that the second overturns the former. Outline the nature of the dispute in each case and why the court decided as it did.

Turn this in by the end of the semester.