The Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom: The Road to the First Amendment

James Madison worked hard to get the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom passed. His main opponent was Patrick Henry, who offered a counter bill. Henry delivered a series of speeches in favor of his bill. They were so powerful that they prompted Madison to write his “Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments,” which met widespread approval and led to the Legislature passing the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom.

Balancing Religious Freedom and Government Interests

This lesson explores the Supreme Court case Tandon v. Newsom (2021) regarding religious liberty.Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the state government of California along with many of its county governments placed restrictions on gatherings of people. One of their regulations had the effect of preventing more than three households gathering together at a time for any in-home prayer and Bible studies. Plaintiffs sued the state, arguing that these restrictions violated the First Amendment since many secular businesses were allowed to have more than three households of people within it at any time, and that therefore religion was being specifically discriminated against. The Supreme Court recently released a per curiam (unsigned) decision concerning the constitutionality of these regulations.

Freedom of Religion: Establishment Clause

The First Amendment has two clauses related to religion: one preventing the government establishment of religion (the establishment clause) and the other protecting the ability to freely exercise religious beliefs (the free exercise clause). Students examine the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause: why it was included in the Bill of Rights, the issues it addresses, and how the Supreme Court has interpreted it over time.

Grades 12, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11
Foundations of Democracy
Media

Puritan Massachusetts: Theocracy or Democracy?

In the 1630s, English puritans in Massachusetts bay colony created a self-government that went far beyond what existed in England. Some historians argue that it was a religious government, or theocracy. Others claim it was a democracy. Following the reading, in small groups, students investigate, discuss, and decide the question: Was the government in Puritan Massachusetts a theocracy, a democracy, or neither?

Grades 9-12
Foundations of Democracy
Lesson Plans

Wisconsin v. Yoder (1972)

Under what conditions does the state’s interest in promoting compulsory education override parents’ First Amendment right to free exercise of religion? This resource is a case summary of Wisconsin v. Yoder, which tested the right of parents to withdraw their child from school for religious reasons.

Grades 12, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11
Judicial Branch/Supreme Court
ESL Appropriate

James Madison and the First Amendment

This short video traces the evolution of Madison’s attitude towards the religious liberty guarantees of the First Amendment. Initially opposed to a Bill of Rights as both inappropriate and dangerous, Madison’s views changed as a result of political and philosophical considerations. Professor Jeffry Morrison emphasizes Madison’s belief that religion should play a vital but informal role in the life of the republic.

Grades 11, 12
Rights and Responsibilities
Video

Locke v. Davey (2004)

Does the Free Exercise Clause require states to fund religious instruction if providing merit-based college scholarships for secular instruction? This case summary shows how the Supreme Court answered that question in 2004.

Grades 9-12
Judicial Branch/Supreme Court
Research (Digests of Primary Sources)