Religion is important to Americans: Seventy-six percent belong to a religious group, according to the Pew Research Center. And there are about 3,000 religious groups in the United States.
The central place of religion in Americans’ lives and the diversity of religions practiced is a testament to the value placed on religious freedom. The idea that people should be able to follow their conscience in how they worship has been part of the American identity since its beginning.
James Madison was known as the “Father of the Constitution” in part because of his early writing on the rights of Virginians in which he argues that “the religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every … man to exercise it as these may dictate. This right is in its nature an inalienable right.”
Religious freedom is enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. The First Amendment of the Constitution says that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof … .” These words, known as the Establishment Clause, are the basis of ongoing debate in the U.S. They have required the court to strike a delicate balance between not endorsing a particular religion and not suppressing people’s free expression of religion. Courts have ruled against overtly religious displays on public land, but they have also ruled in favor of public funds being used to support religious clubs at public universities.
“From the beginning,” President Trump said earlier this year, “America has been a place that has cherished the freedom of worship. That is the promise the first settlers saw in our vast continent — and it is the promise that our bravest warriors have protected for all of our citizens in centuries since.”