Supreme Court Decisions on Freedom of Religion Bruce Berst
The following l7 Supreme Court decisions are the basis for discussion on 1st Amendment Right, Freedom of Religion.4 min read
The following l7 Supreme Court decisions are the basis for discussion on 1st Amendment Right, Freedom of Religion. Any and all can be discussed in depth or simply touched upon. The wide range of cases helps students to understand that this "freedom" has limits and bounds and is constantly under attack.
Suggestion - Start study of Freedom of Religion with open-ended questions
- What does freedom of religion mean?
- What could we not do in the name of religion?
- What is meant by separation of church and state?
Once this groundwork has been laid, simply introduce the case by name -- writing on board or overhead helps. I also include the year which helps students understand what was happening in the world and in the US, which may have influenced the court to rule as they did. I do NOT tell the students of outcome until they have exhausted arguments pro and con. Then, prior to announcing verdict, we have a show of hands for and against. Good Luck!
1879 - REYNOLDS VS US.
Mormon practice of polygamy based on religious practice. (Supreme Court says no.)
1934 - HAMILTON VS REGENTS OF U OF CALIFORNIA
Methodist-Episcopal church - religious beliefs forbid military training. State law requires course in Military Science/Training Tactic. Legal state law? (Supreme Court - No)
1942 - EVERSON VS BOARD OF EDUCATION * Established clause
School district transports all children to school, parochial kids too. Taxpayers paying for bus and driver. Church not charged for their kids to ride. Their parents pay taxes anyway. Supreme Court - can't let church kids ride violates separation.
1943 - WEST VIRGINIA STATE BOARD OF EDUCATION VS BURNETTE
School district compelled children to salute the flag. Jehovah Witness objected. Does mandatory regulations which go against religious grounds violate First Amendment? (Supreme Court - illegal). What are our guidelines on pledge to flag?
1944 - US VS BALLARD
Ballard arrested for using US mail to obtain money under false pretenses. Ballard - his own church I AM MOVEMENT. He had been "selected" by divine messenger. He was told to solicit money to carry out God's work. Men may believe what we can't prove.
- Do we need to prove his vision?
- Does it matter if incident is real or not?
- What if he is an actual Catholic priest?
- What is religion? Should Court define it?
- What is danger here?
- May a single person establish his own religion?
- Does his church need guidelines such as services? (Supreme Court - legal)
1948 - McCOLLUM VS. BOARD OF EDUCATION
School granted release time for kids to go across street, church not big enough. School gives an empty classroom (supplies and teacher are those of the church), so release time for religious activity can take place within the school. McCollum objects on grounds of separation and establishment.
1961- BRAUNFIELD VS BROWN
Jewish community - pass laws to close businesses on Sunday - Sabbath. Non-Jewish businessman objects. Legal? Free Enterprise? (Supreme Court not legal)
1962 - ENGEL VS. VITALE
New York School Board OK's and composes a prayer, instructed each class to use it daily. Prayer is nondenominational. Is it OK? (Supreme Court says no). If not mandatory, just a moment of silence? Swear in President on Bible? In God We Trust on coins? God is dead. National Anthem? Moment of silence?
1963 - SHERBERT VS VERNER
7th Day Adventist fined for refusal to work on Saturday - denied unemployment compensation. (Supreme - ruling stands, can't change system)
1963 - SCHOOL DISTRICT VS. SCHEMP
Students selected passages to read aloud in a public school - no interpretation. Students could be excused if they so wished. All parts of Bible read. Schemp says this is wrong - Why? He is Jewish, he didn't excuse kids more damaging than being there. Of course, doesn't accept New Testament. Kids were not excused from class. Legal - (Supreme Court says no.) Not teaching or supporting religion.
1963 - US VS SEEGER
Selective Service Act - exempts from combat any person who because of religious beliefs consciously objects to participation in war of any form - 3 men refused induction.
Means - belief in Supreme Being - defined by Court.
Seeger - When asked about belief in Supreme Being, said rather he had a belief in good and bad and war was bad, he believed he should do only good.
Should he be exempted? Is he just trying to avoid the draft? Not exempted.
1970 - WALZ VS. TAX COMMISSION
New York school system giving text books to all schools, including parochial schools. Books paid for by tax money. Violation of church and state? (Supreme Court says no). No teaching or promoting religion.
197l GILLETTE VS US
Gillette convicted of willful failure to report for induction into armed services. Stated - not opposed to war needed for national defense, or one sponsored by UN for peace keeping. Was drafted, went through Basic, when given orders to Vietnam, proceeded with conscientious objector status. Cited numerous religious texts - a devout Catholic, said his duty to judge what wars just, what are unjust. (Supreme Court - exemption not allowed)
1972 - WISCONSIN VS YODER
Amish refuse to send kids to school. State law required mandatory education to age 16. Amish argument - state law threatens religious way of life. State's argument - prepares them for adult life Amish - don't need it. State - what if they leave Amish community? (Supreme Court - state law overruled giving an exemption). We change the system. They said they would not in l963.
1976 - SERBIAN EASTERN ORTHODOX DIOCESE VS. MILIVOJEVICH
Milivojevich - Bishop - fired without cause, appealed case on grounds fired unjustly. (Supreme Court - this is strictly a church matter).
1989 - NATIVE AMERICAN CHURCH VS OREGON
Native American arrested for use of peyote. Also arrested for snake handling. These are done in conjunction with religious ceremonies.
People have died from either or both of these. If we legalize it, what about pot for your own church? Crack? Oregon State Law - illegal to possess peyote and/or use it.
LSD Church - League for Spiritual Development - Timothy Leary illegal. Prayers at commencement - California decision - illegal.