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Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Michael Barone's Guide to Government: Free speech

The First Amendment to the Constitution does not impose, as some believe, “a wall of separation between church and state.” That phrase comes from a letter by Thomas Jefferson in 1802 to Connecticut Baptists, cited approvingly by Supreme Court decisions in 1878 and 1947.

The First Amendment begins, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; ..." In 1940 the Supreme Court, by invalidating a law requiring solicitors of a religion to obtain a license, ruled unanimously in Cantwell v. Connecticut that the free exercise clause was applied to the states by the 14th Amendment.

Other decisions followed in which the court ruled that citizens could be exempt from otherwise unobjectionable laws because of their right to freely exercise their religious beliefs: A Seventh Day Adventist could collect unemployment benefits even though unwilling to work on her Sabbath (1963), Amish parents could refuse to send their children to school beyond the eighth grade (1972).

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