Law & Government

United States

First Amendment
Article VI, Section 3
Justice Hugo Black on the meaning of 'Establishment'
The Lemon Test by Chief Justice Warren Burger
James Madison- summery of the First Amendment
Treaty of Tripoly
"In God We Trust"
The Pledge of Allegiance
US States that discriminate against non-believers
Public Schools


First Amendment

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances."

First Amendment study guide excellent resource about amendment's history.

Article VI, Section 3

"The senators and representatives before mentioned, and

the members of the several state legislatures, and all executive and judicial officers, both of the United States and of the several states, shall be bound by oath or affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."

Hugo Black (1886-1971) U.S. Supreme Court Justice

"The establishment of religion clause of the First Amendment means at least this: neither a state nor the Federal Government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another. Neither can force nor influence a person to go to or remain away from church against his will or force him to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion."
[Majority opinion Emerson v. Board of Education 330 U.S. 1 (1947)]

The Lemon Test

Formulated by Chief Justice Warren Burger of the US Supreme Court in the majority opinion in Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971). It Determines if a law is permissible under the establishment clause of the First Amendment.

  • A law must have a secular purpose.
  • It must have a primary effect which neither advances nor inhibits religion.
  • It must avoid excessive entanglement of church and state.

James Madison
Summary of the First Amendment:

"Congress should not establish a religion and enforce the legal observation of it by law, nor compel men to worship God in any manner contrary to their conscience, or that one sect might obtain a pre-eminence, or two combined together, and establish a religion to which they would compel others to conform" (Annals of Congress, Sat Aug. 15th, 1789 pages 730 - 731)

James Madison on Separation of Church and State: his thoughts on separation and establishment

Treaty of Tripoly, article 11

"As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion,-as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselmen,-and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries."

"In God We Trust"

  • In 1860, during the Civil War, Protestant denominations organize the 'National Reform Association', which aimed to amend the Constitution to "declare the nation's allegiance to Jesus Christ."
  • In 1861, Rev. M. R. Watkinson writes Salmon P. Chase, the Secretary of the Treasury, a letter suggesting "the recognition of the Almighty God in some form on our coins". He suggests "God, Liberty, Law" as a motto on a "beautiful coin, to which no possible citizen could object".
  • In 1864, Congress approves "In God We Trust" for use on one-cent and two-cent coins.
  • In 1865, Congress acts to place the motto on all coins.
  • In 1957, the motto is first used on paper money.
  • On July 30, 1956, a bill is passed by congress and signed by the president declaring "In God We Trust" the national motto of the United States.


  • In 1970, The constitutionality of the motto is challenged (Aronow v. United States). The Circut court determined it "has nothing whatsoever to do with the establishment of religion".
  • In 1979, Madalyn Murray O'Hair of American Atheists challanges the motto (O'Hair v. Blumenthal). The circut court ruled "the slogan was secular".
  • In 1994, The Freedom From Religion Foundation challenged the motto citing it's survey that showed a majority of americans consider the motto religious. lawsuit was dismissed by the district Court without trial

    US Treasury: History of 'In God We Trust'

The original motto

"E Pluribus Unum" Latin for "One from many"

  • In 1776, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson submit their design to congress for 'the Great Seal of the United States' with the motto "E Pluribus Unum".
  • In 1782, The Secretary of Congress submits a design of an eagle with a heart-shaped shield and a scroll bearing the motto "E Pluribus Unum".
  • The seal is approved and used on some coinage in 1795.


The Pledge of Allegiance

"I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which it stands: one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."

  • Original adopted October 12, 1892, 'Columbus Day'.
    "I pledge allegiance to my flag and to the republic for which it stands: one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."
  • Amended June 14, 1924, 'Flag Day' to include "the flag of the United States of America".
  • Amended in 1954, during the Cold War McCarthyism, at the request of Christian and anti-Communist groups to include "under God".
  • Challenged in 2003, Michael Newdow, a California Atheist, Doctor and Lawyer successfully sued over the words 'Under God' in the pledge of allegiance being recited in his daughters classroom. He won in the 9th circuit appeals court in a 2-1 decision. The US Supreme Court will now hear the merits of the case. For more see the individuals section of Project-A.

The 'G' word

The use of a capitalized 'G' in 'God" is commonly considered the specific Judeo-Christian god.

  • The use of 'God' may disclude all non Judeo-Christian believers, as well as polytheists (belief in more than one god) and agnostics (unsure of god).
  • The use of 'God' does disclude Atheists.

U.S. State Laws That discriminate against Non-Believers

North Carolina
South Carolina


"No person who denies the being of a God shall hold any office in the civil departments of this State, nor be competent to testify as a witness in any court."
Article 19, sect. 1 of the 1874 constitution


"That as it is the duty of every man to worship God in such manner as he thinks most acceptable to Him, all persons are equally entitled to protection in their religious liberty... nor shall any person, otherwise competent, be deemed incompetent as a witness, or juror, on account of his religious belief; provided, he believes in the existence of God, and that under His dispensation such person will be held morally accountable for his acts, and be rewarded or punished therefore either in this world or in the world to come." Bill of Rights: Article 36


"As the happiness of a people, and the good order and preservation of civil government, essentially depend upon piety, religion and morality; and as these cannot be generally diffused through a community, but by the institution of the public worship of God, and of public instructions in piety, religion and morality: herefore, to promote their happiness and to secure the good order and preservation of their government, the people of this commonwealth have a right to invest their legislature with power to authorize and require, and the legislature shall, from time to time, authorize and require, the several towns, parishes, precincts, and other bodies politic, or religious societies, to make suitable provision, at their own expense, for the institution of the public worship of God, and for the support and maintenance of public Protestant teachers of piety, religion and morality, in all cases where such provision shall not be made voluntarily." Declaration of Rights: Article III

North Carolina

"The following persons shall be disqualified for office: First, any person who shall deny the being of Almighty God...." Constitution Article 6 Section 8


"No person who acknowledges the being of God and a future state of rewards and punishments shall, on account of his relifious sentiments, be disqualified to hold any office or place of trust or profit under this Commonwealth".
Declaration of Rights Article 1 Section 4

South Carolina

"No person shall be eligible to the office of Governor who denies the existence of the Supreme Being..."
Article 4 Section 2


"No person who denies the being of God, or a future state of rewards and punishments, shall hold any office in the civil department of this state." Bill of Rights: Article 9 Section 4


"No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office, or public trust, in this State; nor shall any one be excluded from holding office on account of his religious sentiments, provided he acknowledge the existence of a Supreme Being." Article 1 - Bill of Rights: Section 4

Thanks to LolaMSins and Edward Penton

information taken from

What the law says: (US) Public Schools


The following is an overview of current federal laws and regulations regarding religious expression in the public schools:

In general
As representatives of the government, administrators and teachers must neither encourage nor prohibit students' religious activities.

Private activity
Individual students and groups may informally pray, discuss religion, or read Scriptures on campus if such activities are neither disruptive nor coercive.

Student-run religious groups may meet on campus during non-class time, and publicize their events, on an equal basis with other noncurricular gatherings.

Schools may "teach about" religion, including the Bible, but "religious instruction" is restricted to private, "released time" classes off campus.

If academically relevant, students may express religious ideas in written, oral or art assignments.

Schools may "teach about" religious holidays and celebrate their "secular aspects," but must not observe them as "religious events."

School officials may not organize commencement prayers.

Students may distribute religious literature to schoolmates if other handouts are allowed.

If school dress codes allow private expressions, religious symbols or messages are permissible.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education guidelines as updated in 1998 and reissued in December.


Constitution of Australia

"The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth." -- Section 116, from Menendez and Doerr, The Great Quotations on Religious Freedom

Constitution of Brazil, 1946

"Freedom of conscience and belief is inviolable, and the free exercise of religious sects is assured, as long as they are not contrary to public order or good morals. Religious associations shall acquire juridical personality according to civil law. No one shall be deprived of his rights by reason of religious, philosophic, or political convictions.... Without restraint of the ones favored, religious ministration to the Armed Forces shall be offered by a Brazilian...: cemeteries shall be secular in character and shall be administered by the municipal authority. All religious confessions shall be permitted to practice their rites therein. Religious associations may maintain private cemeteries, according to law.... Religious instruction shall be a part of the teaching schedule of public schools, matriculation therein shall be optional, and the instruction shall be provided in accordance with the religious confession of the pupil."

Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

Section 2: "Everyone has the following fundamental freedoms: freedom of conscience and religion; freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication; freedom of peaceful assembly; and freedom of association."


Constitution of Colombia, 1853

"[Guaranteed to all Colombians is] the free profession, public or private, of their religion, providing it does not disturb the public peace, offend pure morals, nor impede the exercise of any other religion." -- The first act of church-state separation in Latin America, the 1853 Constitution also barred forced contributions for the support of any religion. Quoted from Albert J. Menendez and Edd Doerr, The Great Quotations on Religious Freedom.

French Human Rights Declaration

Article 18: "Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance."

Article 19: "Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.."

Constitution of Greece

Article 13, Phrase 2: "There shall be freedom to practice any known religion; individuals shall be free to perform their rites of worship without hindrance and under the protection of the law. The performance of rites of worship must not prejudice public order or public morals. Proselytism is prohibited."

Section 4 of Greek Law No.1363/38:

  1. "Anyone engaging in proselytism shall be liable to imprisonment and a fine of between 1,000 and 50,000 drachmas; he shall, moreover, be subject to police supervision for a period of between six months and one year to be fixed by the court when convicting the offender.
  2. By ‘proselytism’ is meant, in particular, any direct or indirect attempt to intrude on the religious beliefs of a person of a different religious persuasion (eterodoxos), with the aim of undermining those beliefs, either by any kind of inducement or promise of an inducement or moral support or material assistance, or by fraudulent means or by taking advantage of the other person’s inexperience, trust, need, low intellect or naivete.
  3. The commission of such an offence in a school or other educational establishment or philanthropic institution shall constitute a particularly aggravating circumstance."

Constitution of Japan, 1947

"Freedom of religion is guaranteed to all. No religious organizations shall receive any privileges from the state nor exercise any political authority. No person shall be compelled to take part in any religious act, celebration, rite or practice. The state and its organs shall refrain from religious education or any other religious activity." -- Article 20. From Albert J. Menendez and Edd Doerr, The Great Quotations on Religious Freedom

Constitution of South Africa, 1996

"Section 15: Freedom of religion, belief and opinion
(1) Everyone has the right to freedom of conscience, religion, thought, belief and opinion."

United Nations

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights

Article 18.1: "Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching."

Article 18.2: "No one shall be subject to coercion which would impair his freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice."





--Thomas Jefferson --

"History, I believe, furnishes no example of a priest-ridden people maintaining a free civil government. This marks the lowest grade of ignorance of which their civil as well as religious leaders will always avail themselves for their own purposes" (Letter to von Humboldt, 1813).

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