The First Amendment and Separation between State and Religion

Subject: Law
Pages: 4
Words: 883
Reading time:
4 min
Study level: College

Aspects of Regulation of the First Amendment

The First Amendment to the constitution of the United States is considered by many people to be very crucial as it guarantees various fundamental rights. The First Amendment touches on various freedoms, including religion, assembly, and speech, among other important freedoms (Hamburger, 2004). It is also considered to offer separation between the state and the church by stating that the American Congress should not create any law that establishes a religion or prohibit people from worshiping their gods or being involved in some religious ceremonies or activities.

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History of Creation

The First Amendment is considered to have originated from a bill on freedom of religion in Virginia. Thomas Jefferson prepared the First Amendment for the body that passes laws in Virginia in 1777. The bill that was prepared guaranteed freedom of practicing any religion and at the same time freedom from religion. It was later included as a part of the American constitution in 1786 when James Madison delivered his speech in which there were some amendments to the bill that had initially been tabled by Jefferson (Hamburger, 2004).

The First Amendment became part of the American constitution after the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia had been held in 1778. According to this conference regarding religion, several controversies arose, and the convention was able to solve only some of them which included abolishing religious tests, oaths, and other aspects of religion as requirements to hold a federal office (Adamson, 2007). The convention also stated that people should affirm and not swear during their oath of office. The convention did not recognize Christianity (which was dominant then) as an official state religion, or a single denomination of any other church. The constitution first had not specifically stated the freedom of speech and was later changed to guarantee this.

Rev. Isaac Backus, a famous preacher with the Baptist Church in New England in 1773, once stated that it was important for the church and state to be separated so that there would be no interference between the two bodies. Today’s view on a separation between state and religion is not very different. People vote for separation between state and church so that other fundamental rights of other people would be guaranteed, such as the right to freedom of expression and religion as there are many religions in the United States. The majority of the delegates being Evangelical Christians ratified the constitution during the convention, yet they were not for the ideal of entanglement between religion and the state. The name of God was not mentioned in the constitution as the founding fathers were of different confessions, George Washington was an Anglican, while Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and James Monroe were the Episcopalians. That was the reason why they felt the need for separation between state and religion.

The debate on what should be stated in the American constitution took over 3 months, while the people were arguing extensively on that issue. The negotiations resulted in a decision that the document should be secular with no reference to God. For proponents of the separation of the state and religion, they believe that the founding fathers were right, and there was a need for the separation to allow people to freely express themselves.

The Supreme Court in the United States had to develop and adopt various rules and laws to ensure and officially consolidate the separation between state and religion. Today, the current position by the court on the issue states that the country should protect the rights of the individuals who belong to minority religions, and thus belonging to mainstream religions makes the individuals feel as though their right is infringed on. People who believe that issues of faith are important to define a moral for a person and society, in general, find it almost impossible to separate religion and state. The position of the court in solving this issue is difficult to understand as the role of the government has changed today as it does not only manage public schools but is involved in many social welfares.

Religious Question

People have held discussions on the subject offering different interpretations; some believe that the courts should make their decisions based on the original intent of the drafter of the constitution (Adamson, 2007). The intent should then be applied to today’s society as the law the people would like to adopt was created to govern the American people and can only be changed with the use of a constitutional amendment. This view states that the American government should refer to religion more as during the time of drafting the constitution, that is why in the First Amendment, the founding fathers mentioned the freedom of religion so as every American could be free to choose in what he/she wanted to put his/her faith. There is another school of thought in which advocates argue that the constitution should reflect several principles related to general morality. The courts, therefore, are to transfer the need of these realities in-laws and adapt them accordingly.

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The debate on the separation of religion and state is a great issue raised in American society, especially when the public tries to deal with such concerns as to how to react to gay marriage, abortion, and use of contraceptives, amongst others.


Adamson, B. (2007). Freedom of Religion, the First Amendment, and the Supreme Court. Gretna: Pelican Publishing Company.

Hamburger, P. (2004). Separation of Church and State. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.