The following l7 Supreme Court decisions are the basis for discussion
on lst Amendment Right, Freedom of Religion. Any and all can be
discussed in depth or simply touched upon. The wide range of cases
help 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
l) What does freedom of religion mean?
2) What could we not do in the name of religion?
3) 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!!
FREEDOM OF RELIGION
l942 - EVERSON VS BOARD OF EDUCATION * Established clause
School district transports all children to school, parochial kids
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.
l976 - SERBIAN EASTERN ORTHODOX DIOCESE VS. MILIVOJEVICH
Milivojevich - Bishop - fired without cause, appealed case on
grounds fired unjustly. (Supreme Court - this is strictly a church
l948 - 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.
l962 - 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?
l879 - REYNOLDS VS US.
Mormon practice of polygamy based on religious practice. (Supreme
Court says no.)
l963 - 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
l970 - 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.
l943 - 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?
l96l - BRAUNFIELD VS BROWN
Jewish community - pass laws to close businesses on Sunday -
Sabbath. Non-Jewish businessman objects. Legal? Free Enterprise?
(Supreme Court not legal)
l963 - SHERBERT VS VERNER
7th Day Adventist fined for refusal to work on Saturday - denied
unemployment compensation. (Supreme - ruling stands, can't change
l934 - 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)
l972 - 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
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.
l944 - US VS BALLARD
Ballard arrested for using US mail to obtain money under false
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)
l963 - 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
l97l 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)
l989 - NATIVE AMERICAN CHURCH VS OREGON
Native American arrested for use of peyote. Also arrested for
snake handling. These are done in conjunction with religious
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.
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