10/24/2007 - The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution guarantees that the federal government will respect the "free exercise" of religion. But the precise meaning of "free exercise" and exactly what constitutes an infringement of this right are not clear-cut. At the heart of the debate is one basic question: Do individuals or groups professing sincerely held religious beliefs have a right because of those beliefs to be exempt from legal requirements generally imposed on all citizens? The courts' answer has differed over time and depending on the circumstances.
The latest backgrounder in a series of occasional essays on the relationship between government and religion details the history of the free exercise debate and examines the significant Supreme Court and lower court cases that make up the jurisprudence in this area. As a supplement to this backgrounder, one of its authors, Robert W. Tuttle, spoke with the Pew Forum about how the current law on free exercise might be applied in certain, real-world circumstances.
Read the full transcript Free Exercise Clause and the Parameters of Religious Liberty on the Pew Research Center Web site.
Robert W. Tuttle, David R. and Sherry Kirschner Berz Research Professor of Law and Religion, George Washington University Law School