During much of the 20th century, courts,
when considering issues involving religious freedom and the relationship between
church and state, focused primarily upon the Establishment Clause and the Free
Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Along with Article
VI, section 3–the Religious Test Clause–these provisions represent the whole of
the U.S. Constitution's mention of religion. Despite the sparseness of the mention
of religion in the Constitution, the importance of these provisions in matters
of religious liberty and church-state relations is widely known and well-appreciated.
During the last decade, however, another set of sources has
reemerged, sources that provide significant protection of religious liberty and
additional instruction regarding the relationship between government and people
of faith, between public institutions and faith based-institutions. These sources–the
religion provisions of state constitutions–are beginning to garner more attention
and to be consulted for answers regarding these fundamental questions. Although
the history of some of these provisions extends back to the period before the
First Amendment was adopted, they are now coming back into focus after many decades
Each of the 50 states has a constitution that
includes a number of provisions touching on religion. Unlike the limited mention
of religion in the U.S. Constitution, most state constitutions include several
detailed provisions on religion. These provisions may be organized in four categories:
(1) Acknowledgment of God Provisions; (2) Religion Provisions; (3) Education Provisions;
and (4) Finance/Property Tax Provisions.
God Provisions" includes those at the beginning of many state constitutions that
express gratitude to God, acknowledge God, or recognize humans as His creation.
"Religion Provisions" includes those provisions in the state
bills of rights that broadly declare the freedom of religion and address the relationship
between church and state, those that prohibit the government from requiring those
conscientiously opposed to bearing arms to serve in the militia, and those that
prescribe oaths for government actors that invoke God's help.
Provisions" includes those provisions that prohibit the government from supporting
any sectarian or denominational school with money raised for the public schools
and those that prohibit instruction on any sectarian or denominational doctrine
in any public school.
"Finance/Property Tax Provisions" includes
those providing that property used for religious or charitable
purposes may be exempted from property taxation and prohibiting
the government from laying any tax or appropriating public
money in aid of any church or private or sectarian school.
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