Being that this is the final blog post for the semester, I thought it would be appropriate to reconsider the meaning of the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause, as well as the positive aspects and flaws of these clauses as they relate to the postings I have completed.
The Establishment Clause prohibits the government from establishing an official religion or showing preference toward one religion over others. However, as I have noted in a number of my posts, it often seems as though the government and presidents’ administrations do show preference toward one religion over others. In my first post about Trump’s travel ban, I asked if Trump was attempting to make Christianity the dominant, established religion. Reading over this blog post, I realize that intent is the real question. I think this is the greatest difficulty of upholding the Establishment Clause. Measuring intent is extremely challenging. It is easy to point fingers, but is there really a way to examine if one’s true intent is to establish religion? At what point does one’s actions or statements infringe on the Establishment Clause?
The Free Exercise Clause gives the right to freely exercise religion. The difficulty here is that many religions have beliefs and practices that unintentionally encroach upon or restrict the rights of others. Your rights only go so far as they don’t constrain the rights of others, however, limiting one’s religious exercise to not inhibit others rights, in turn obstructs their religious liberties, right?
Does the failure to provide funding to religious organizations hinder free exercise in the attempt to separate church and state? This was one of the overarching questions in my post about the Johnson Amendment and Trinity v. Pauley. This post made me realize that the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause often conflict with each other. Though each clause seeks to protect religious liberties, they do so in different ways, which don’t always align. With the Johnson Amendment, a law that intends to ensure that states aren’t sponsoring any religion or their beliefs, might actually restrict the right to freely exercise a religion. This same issue comes up when discussing the most recent Trinity v. Pauley case. To an extent, each of the clauses that seek to protect religion actually have the potential to constrain the other clause.
One of the major flaws of theses clauses is that there are times when protecting religious liberties comes in conflict with protecting other rights, such as freedom of speech and expression.
Writing these blogs has really spurred an even greater interest in learning about how the First Amendment applies to religion. There is a lot more to these clauses when they are applied to real people and how they carry out their freedoms. It has also made me realize how many issues are about freedom of religion, even when they might not seem that way at face value. These blogs have answered some of my initial questions about when and how religious liberties are protected, but, as noted here, I still have a lot of questions.
The truth is, rights only go as far as the Supreme Court justices believe they do. The true meaning of these clauses is dependent upon how any given justice interprets them. Your rights are in the hands of the chosen few who spend their lives interpreting the words of the Constitution.