State/Church FAQ

State/Church FAQ

Blasphemy laws violate the First Amendment.  They promote religion, specifically Christianity, over nonreligion in violation of the Establishment Clause.  They prohibit speech in violation of the Free Speech Clause.  They violate the guarantees of religious free exercise and free press.  In general, blasphemy laws assault the First Amendment’s protection of the freedom of conscience.  

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Critics of the Christian bible occasionally can score a point or two in discussion with the religious community by noting the many teachings in both the Old and New Testaments that encourage the bible believer to hate and to kill, biblical lessons that history proves Christians have taken most seriously. Nonetheless the bible defendant is apt to offer as an indisputable parting shot, “But don’t forget the ten commandments. They are the basic bible teaching. Study the ten commandments.”

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The U.S. Constitution is a secular document. It begins, “We the people,” and contains no mention of “God” or “Christianity.” Its only references to religion are exclusionary, such as, “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust” (Art. VI), and “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” (First Amendment). The presidential oath of office, the only oath detailed in the Constitution, does not contain the phrase “so help me God” or any requirement to swear on a bible (Art. II, Sec. 7). If we are a Christian nation, why doesn't our Constitution say so? In 1797 America made a treaty with Tripoli, declaring that “the government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.” This reassurance to Islam was written under Washington’s presidency, and approved by the Senate under John Adams.

For an overwhelming part of U.S. history, America's motto was purely secular, "E Pluribus Unum" (From many [come] one). E Pluribus Unum was chosen by a committee of Jefferson, Adams and Franklin. Many Americans mistakenly assume our founders chose "In God We Trust" as the motto, but nothing could be further from the truth. Our founders were committed to a secular government. For most of U.S. history, our money was likewise free of religion.

I live in a HUD-subsidized housing. What are my rights to avoid religious activities and decorations?

A typical complaint involves the exhibition of religious holiday decorations in common areas (lobbies, recreation facilities, laundry rooms) of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) subsidized housing. Such religious holiday decorations often include angels, crèche displays, biblical scripture, menorahs, Stars of David, etc. Federal funding is distributed by HUD to support low income housing, as well as housing for senior citizens and the disabled, according to the stipulations enumerated in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). The CFR is explicit and unequivocal in its prohibition on religious activities as part of any program funded through the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Are religious holiday displays a violation of the First Amendment?

The most frequent complaint that FFRF receives during November and December concerns religious displays on public property. The majority involve a crèche, or nativity scene, being displayed at a public park, or outside or inside a government building. FFRF has even received complaints about a nativity scene prominently displayed on the front lawn of public schools! We also receive complaints about other religious symbols being displayed on public property, such as menorahs or crosses. Members of the public are shocked to find these displays authorized, supported, and erected by their local, state or federal government entities.

They make us listen to prayer before we eat lunch at public-funded senior centers. Help!

An unfortunately common state/church violation concerns prayer imposed on a captive audience of senior citizens before lunch at public-funded senior centers. This is illegal!

Why do some states require a religious test for public office? Isn't that unconstitutional?

The Supreme Court ruled in 1961 that States cannot impose a religious test for public office, in conformity with Art. VI of the U.S. Constitution.

Is it legal for government offices and public schools to close for Good Friday?

FFRF often receives complaints from the public about government offices and public schools closing for Good Friday.

Is an Establishment Clause violation occurring at government meetings?

One of the most frequent complaints to the Freedom From Religion Foundation from the public over state/church violations concerns government officials opening government meetings with prayer.

A religious group is holding meetings in a public library. What can I do about it?

Like most government property, public libraries are not automatically open for individuals and private groups to exercise free speech. Once a government body chooses to open up library space for use by private groups, either through action (renting out facilities) or through a “library use policy,” there are a number of steps to take to determine if it is inappropriate for a religious group to be using the facilities.

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