What does freedom of religion mean to you?

Freedom of religion is a core value in the U.S. Constitution and is part of the first amendment to the Bill of Rights.

Most Americans know the first amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees a right to freedom of religion. The rest of the first amendment says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” What does that mean?

The following questions are meant to have a good discussion with youth about the freedom of religion. This activity can be done within a family, as part of school activities, a 4-H club or with any group working with young people. Encourage a robust dialogue about these issues, and encourage young people to find data to back up their opinions. During the discussion, try to limit interjecting your own opinions and let the youth discuss it among themselves.

The Michigan Constitution spells it out in more detail. “Every person shall be at liberty to worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience. No person shall be compelled to attend, or against his consent, to contribute to the erection or support of any place of religious worship, or to pay tithes, taxes or other rates for the support of any minister of the gospel or teacher of religion. No money shall be appropriated or drawn from the treasury for the benefit of any religious sect or society, theological or religious seminary; nor shall property belonging to the state be appropriated for any such purpose. The civil and political rights, privileges and capacities of no person shall be diminished or enlarged on account of his religious belief.”

Although this issue may appear to be obvious, there are court cases brought up regularly as to how this is interpreted.

What if your religion requires you to do something that might violate another law? A person practicing Sikhism is required to wear a kirpan, which is a small dagger or sword, as part of their religion. This is to symbolize protecting the weak and innocent. Should the kirpan be allowed in places that do not allow weapons, such as a courtroom or an airplane?

Should religious organizations be able to receive government grants if they are doing a public service? Should religious schools receive funds if they are teaching students? Should churches serve as voting locations? If a public meeting is being held in a church, should members of the public be required to remove their hats? What if their own religion requires them to wear a hat?

Should prayer be allowed in schools? Should there be restrictions on who can lead it? Or what times the prayer can happen? If a Christian prayer is allowed, should a Jewish or Islamic prayer be allowed as well? Why or why not? Does it matter if no one objects? Should prayer happen at other public meetings? Should it happen at 4-H events?

Should an individual be able to refuse to work on a particular day of the week, like Sunday, or on a religious holiday without fear of being fired by their employer?

Should the government compel a private business to interact with someone in which they disagree? Should a business be able to refuse to serve someone based on their race or religion or sexual preference?

Hopefully, these questions will get some good discussion going about personal rights. If the discussion leads to conflict, there are some conflict resolution resources available through Michigan State University Extension. If you have some great ideas, share them with your local county, city or township, or your state or federal legislators.

To learn about the positive impact of Michigan 4-H youth leadership, citizenship and service and global and cultural education programs, read our 2016 Impact Report: “Developing Civically Engaged Leaders.” Additional impact reports, highlighting even more ways Michigan State University Extension and Michigan 4-H have positively impacted individuals and communities in 2016, can be downloaded from the MSU Extension website.

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