Freedom of religion is a fundamental human right that allows us to think, express, and act upon our deeply held religious beliefs. The First Amendment to the United States Constitution protects our right to exercise our religion freely, and it also prohibits government from establishing a state-sponsored religion. Religious freedom applies to all belief systems, whether Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, or others.
Free Exercise of Religion
The First Amendment prohibits government from making laws or taking other action that prohibits or interferes with the free exercise of religion. To be protected, a person’s belief does not have to be recognized or generally accepted; the person simply needs to have a genuine belief in it.
To violate the Free Exercise Clause, government action must intentionally interfere with or burden the free exercise of religion. A neutral law of general applicability that does not target a religious practice is not unconstitutional.
Establishment of Religion
The First Amendment prohibits government from establishing a particular religion. Government action must meet the following criteria:
- It must have some secular purpose;
- It must not advance or inhibit religion as its primary effect (i.e., not prefer one religion over another); and
- It must not foster excessive government entanglement with religion.
For example, public schools cannot have officially sponsored prayers, but government can have displays with religious themes if they are surrounded by primarily secular symbols.
Under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, government cannot treat a person or class of people differently based on religion. In most cases, government must meet a standard of “strict scrutiny” to show that it is not treating a religion or people with religious beliefs differently because of their religion.
The Constitution of the State of Nevada also guarantees to its citizens the free exercise of religion, or the liberty of conscience. It states as follows:
The free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship without discrimination or preference shall forever be allowed in this State, and no person shall be rendered incompetent to be a witness on account of his opinions on matters of his religious belief, but the liberty of conscien[c]e hereby secured, shall not be so construed, as to excuse acts of licentiousness or justify practices inconsistent with the peace, or safety of this State.
Contact me today if you believe government is taking action that infringes on your religious freedom.