The Constitution doesn’t guarantee Americans “freedom from religion”

Mike Pence said yesterday on Fox Business that the First Amendment to the Constitution doesn’t provide “freedom from religion,” the idea that people shouldn’t have other people’s religious beliefs forced on them.

Host Larry Kudlow told Pence that “far-left progressives… will not allow God into the conversation, will not allow religion into the conversation. Not just the conversation, the schools, the communities, the workplace… I mean, no one is allowed to talk about the Ten Commandments or the importance of moral values.”
“How can we have a truly great nation? These lefties want to scrap religion, Mike Pence, and I think it’s a terrible mistake,” Kudlow said.

Pence waited a bit – possibly to see if Kudlow was actually going to ask a question – and responded: “Well, the radical left believes that the freedom of religion is the freedom from religion. But it’s nothing the American founders ever thought of or generations of Americans fought to defend.”

“The good news is that after four years of the Trump-Pence administration, I’m confident that we have a pro-religious freedom majority on the Supreme Court of the United States,” he continued.

A reminder

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.


I mean, Pence is essentially correct that today’s interpretation of “freedom of religion” is quite different from the one that was initially intended.

It was intended that the federal government wouldn’t have a national religion akin to the Church of England. It left the states free to maintain their already-established state religions and guaranteed the states freedom from federal intervention in that regard. Because each state would have wanted their state religion to be the federal religion and they wanted to ensure that another state’s state religion wouldn’t be foisted upon them so that they could maintain their own state religion.

Massachusetts had a state religion the longest, IIRC, until shortly before the Civil War. Most (but not all) states required political office-holders to profess faith in Jesus Christ or often specifically in Protestant Christian values or something along those lines. I have another post about this somewhere… I’ll see if I can find it.

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Here is the post I was thinking of, although there are other interesting ones in the thread as well.

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Freedom from, free exercise and no establishment of are all different things.

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The reality is that there are a lot of people who practice religion in the United States. A decent portion aren’t even Christian. Those religions shape those peoples values and beliefs. In the US everyone can run for office and everyone has 1 vote so freedom FROM religion is impossible unless we scrap democracy.

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sounds like he’s not wrong

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Similarly, we don’t have “free speech” in the US. I can lose friends, job, or spouse by saying the wrong things.

In the political context, we generally mean “free speech” to be freedom from government sanctions on speech.

So, does “freedom from religion” mean anything in terms of laws that we already have or that might be passed?

I’m fine with distinguishing between free exercise vs. no establishment.

Could you say more about what “freedom from” means?

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I think when people say “freedom from religion” they are referring to a desire to be shielded from other people’s religion.

So when communities remove their nativity scenes and menorahs from the public square or the 10 Commandments from the lobby of a courthouse or people get in trouble for wearing rosaries or yarmulkes or headscarves, that is often interpreted as an insistence on freedom FROM religion. ie the government protecting my delicate sensibilities from seeing any visible evidence that your religion exits.

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Supreme court ruled in 1947 that the prohibition of an established religion applies to the states as well as the federal government. Scalia would probably say this is one of those wrong precedents like Plessy vs Ferguson that should be overturned.


There is plenty of visible evidence that religions exist. I don’t know of any cases where governments have told private citizens they can’t have manger scenes on their front lawns, for example. There is no protection of atheists’, Jews’, or Muslims’ “delicate sensibilities” in those cases.

The problem arises when it looks like the gov’t is promoting a particular religion, like putting the display in the lobby of the courthouse.


From a Christian perspective, the movie “Christmas with a Capital C” addresses this issue in a very good way, IMO.

Actually there are 7 states currently with a constitutional ban on atheists holding office.

(Those bans are unconstitutional.)


Good history. Is it relevant today? Is Pence saying that we should go back to 1789 and have state religions? or religious tests for state offices?

If he isn’t saying that, I’m not sure if the history is relevant what he is saying.


I’ve never seen that movie.

Googling gives me a synopsis. My take away is that the Christians lost the court case to have a Nativity scene on public property. Instead of being bitter about the symbol, they decided to act “like Christians” and moved people by their actions.

Is that what you got from the movie?

Also 1789 was before the civil war. People were more citizens of their state than of the federal government.

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Not sure of your reference here.

Held: This Maryland test for public office cannot be enforced against appellant, because it unconstitutionally invades his freedom of belief and religion guaranteed by the First Amendment and protected by the Fourteenth Amendment from infringement by the States

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[nit-pick]I think it’s more accurate to say that until the 20th century, people identified more as being “of ” than being “of the US”.[/n-p]

You’re right, sorry I was thinking just of the article 6, but should have followed into the cases.

Yes. Or Satanists leading the opening prayer in Florida.