The first amendment in the Bill of Rights guarantees freedom of religion, speech, press assembly, and the right to petition the government. The establishment clause supports the first amendment by directing the national government not to involve itself in religion. And the Free Exercise Clause guarantees the citizens that the national government will not interfere with their practice of religion.
The Cantwell v. Connecticut tested these clauses in 1940. The Supreme Court decided that there are two concepts according to the First Amendment and the freedom of religion; freedom to believe, and freedom to act. The freedom to act cannot be absolute. The courts barred polygamy from the Mormon religion because the court reasoned that if they allowed this religious practice, they would also have to allow such things as sacrifice. The court noted “Laws are made for the government of actions, and while they cannot interfere with mere religious beliefs and opinions, they may with practices.”
When secular law comes into contact with religious law, the right to exercise religious beliefs is often denied. Although in the case Wisconsin v. Yoder, the court concluded that the Amish had the right to withdraw their children from school before they are sixteen. The case started when the parents of some children refused to send their children to school after eighth grade. They believed that attending high school would teach their children “Worldly views,” which conflicted with their lifestyle. Wisconsin state law states that children must attend school through the age sixteen. Although Yoder won the case, because this law violated their Free Exercise Clause rights.
The case Lemon v. Kurtzman argues the use of state funds for parochial schools. In its decision the court devised a test to determine if the laws were constitutional. In order for a law to be constitutional it must satisfy these three requirments.1) It must have a secular purpose. 2) The primary effect must neither advance nor inhibit religion. 3) And last, it must not foster an excessive government entanglement with religion. The use of state funding for the salaries for parochial teachers was found to fail this test and therefore was prohibited by the constitution.
Conflicts between religious beliefs and government are often difficult to settle. Our government believes that all men (and women) are entitled to their beliefs, and that it is not their responsibility to conflict with these beliefs. Although when these beliefs are put into practice the government must interfere in certain cases. People are entitled to beliefs but they are not entitled to hurting others or the environment. The Supreme Court must walk a fine line between the free exercise and establishment clauses.