Genealogy from the perspective of a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon, LDS)

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

What is Religious Freedom in the United States? Part Four -- A Constitutional Right

The Constitution is the foundation of law in the United States. But there were certain important rights that were not contained in the document as it was originally passed. The passage of a "bill of rights" was hotly contested by many of the prominent supporters of the Constitution itself. Ratification of the Constitution by the states was only accomplished after an agreement among the constitutional delegates that the convention also add admendments. The Constitution was finally ratified in 1788 and ratification was certified on September 13, 1788. With the formation of the new government and during the first Congress, James Madison undertook the task of shifting through a large number of proposed amendments and in September, 1789 the House and Senate approved a report laying out the proposed amendments.

After considerable discussion and changes made by both the Senate and the House, On September 25, 1789 a joint resolution of Congress approved twelve amendments to the Constitution and these were forwarded to the states for ratification. After ratification by three-fourths of the states, President Washington informed the Congress that the ten of the amendments had been ratified on Decmber 30, 1791. The specific provision of the Bill of Rights pertaining to religion was adopted as the First Amendment which is quoted as follows:
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.
This wording is usually interpreted as setting for two basic religious rights: the establishment of religion and the free exercise of religion. Interestingly, there were few major issues concerning religious freedom in the United States until the Supreme Court considered the case of Reynolds v. United States, 98 U.S. 145 (1878).

I have decided to write on the subject of religious freedom due to my own personal family history. The Reynolds case involved the subject usually referred to as "polygamy" but more correctly described as plural marriage. I am descended from polygamus families on both my maternal and paternal lines. But the legal issues involving religious freedom have greatly expanded since 1878 with dozens of significant rulings by the Supreme Court. I intend to discuss very many of these cases and so this series will undoubtedly continue for some considerable time. In this context, I will also instersperse comments about my own opinions about the outcome of the cases.

Presently, given the current trend in the decisions made by the Supreme Court, it is entirely possible that the holding of the Reynolds case may be reversed. However, I do not intend to focus primarily on the issue of polygamy, but the more general issues of both the free exercise of religion and ultimately the establishment of religion. But I will start with the Reynolds case.

Stay tuned.

This is an ongoing series. I suggest you may wish to read previous posts.

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