Freedom Of Religion Statement Issued
Special Report - January 20, 2010
Religious freedom is “a fundamental, inalienable right for all people, religious and nonreligious” that is protected by the United States Constitution and other legal provisions, according to a joint statement issued last week by a diverse group of conservative and liberal experts from the nation’s religious and legal communities. Produced by Wake Forest University Divinity School’s Center for Religion and Public Affairs, the statement, entitled “Religious Expression in American Public Life: A Joint Statement of Current Law,” was released on January 12 at the Brookings Institution in Washington, DC. It addresses the role of religion in the public square in a question and answer format, including religion and politics, religious expression in the workplace, and religious gatherings on government property.
“The role of religion in public life has long been a source of controversy and litigation,” said Melissa Rogers, director of Wake Forest University Divinity School’s Center for Religion and Public Affairs, in a press release. Rogers acknowledged that many members of the statement’s drafting committee are often on opposite sides in legal battles over religious expression. “But while the drafters of this document may disagree about how the legal line should draw be drawn between church and state, we have been able to come together and agree in many cases on what the law is today.”
The 35 questions and answers addressed in the statement include the following points:
- The First Amendment protects the rights of religious organizations to participate in political activities.
- Individuals and groups are permitted to use government property for religious activities and events in many, but not all, cases subject to reasonable time, place and manner restrictions.
- Governmental bodies may erect seasonal holiday displays that contain some religious elements when the context taken as a whole does not promote a religious message.
- A city may not require individuals and groups that are merely seeking to advocate a cause, including a religious cause, to get a permit before engaging in door-to-door advocacy. The government may regulate, however, the time, place and manner of these expressive activities.
- Public schools may not promote or endorse religious expression, but students are free to pray alone or in groups, read their scriptures and discuss their faith so long as they are not disruptive, do not infringe upon the rights of others and comply with the same time, place and manner restrictions applicable to other non- school-related student expression.
- School officials may teach about religion if they are neutral in their treatment of faith, neither promoting nor denigrating religion.
Members of the statement’s drafting committee included:
- Steven Freeman of the Anti-Defamation League;
- Colby May of the American Center for Law and Justice;
- Charles C. Hayes of the Freedom Forum First Amendment Center;
- Marc Stern of the American Jewish Congress;
- Dr. Richard Land of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention;
- Robert Destro of The Catholic University of America.
Additionally, former staff members of the ACLU and People for the American Way served on the drafting committee.
To read the full statement or view a list of signers, go here: http://divinity.wfu.edu/rpa/aboutstatement.html
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