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Constitutions

Constitution of Australia

The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth.
-- Section 116, from Menendez and Doerr, The Great Quotations on Religious Freedom

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Constitution of Brazil, 1946

Freedom of conscience and belief is inviolable, and the free exercise of religious sects is assured, as long as they are not contrary to public order or good morals. Religious associations shall acquire juridical personality according to civil law. No one shall be deprived of his rights by reason of religious, philosophic, or political convictions.... Without restraint of the ones favored, religious ministration to the Armed Forces shall be offered by a Brazilian...: cemeteries shall be secular in character and shall be administered by the municipal authority. All religious confessions shall be permitted to practice their rites therein. Religious associations may maintain private cemeteries, according to law.... Religious instruction shall be a part of the teaching schedule of public schools, matriculation therein shall be optional, and the instruction shall be provided in accordance with the religious confession of the pupil.

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Constitution of Colombia, 1853

[Guaranteed to all Colombians is] the free profession, public or private, of their religion, providing it does not disturb the public peace, offend pure morals, nor impede the exercise of any other religion.
-- The first act of church-state separation in Latin America, the 1853 Constitution also barred forced contributions for the support of any religion. Quoted from Albert J Menendez and Edd Doerr, The Great Quotations on Religious Freedom.

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Constitution of India, 1948

It is the fundamental duty of an Indian citizen to develop scientific temper, humanism and spirit of enquiry and reform.
-- Article 51-A (h) Also, no discrimination can be shown in educational institutions aided by government on the basis of caste, religion, race, gender, etc. These provisions were necessary responses to the vast diversity of religions in India. India also has a Special Marriage Act. While there are separate marriage laws for Hindus, Muslims, and Christians, under the Special Marriage Act the nonreligious can have marriage ceremonies free from any mention of caste or creed.

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Constitution of Japan, 1947

Freedom of religion is guaranteed to all. No religious organizations shall receive any privileges from the state nor exercise any political authority. No person shall be compelled to take part in any religious act, celebration, rite or practice. The state and its organs shall refrain from religious education or any other religious activity.
-- Article 20. From Albert J Menendez and Edd Doerr, The Great Quotations on Religious Freedom

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Constitution of the United States, 1791

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.
-- First Amendment, Ratified December, 1791

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury.... nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb, nor shall be compelled in any Criminal Case to be a witness against himself, not be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law, nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.
-- Constitution of the United States, Bill of Rights, Fifth Amendment, 1791

The senators and representatives before mentioned, and the members of the several state legislatures, and all executive and judicial officers, both of the United States and of the several states, shall be bound by oath or affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.
-- Article VI, Section 3

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US State of of Alabama Constitution

That no religion shall be established by law; that no preference shall be given by law to any religious sect, society, denomination, or mode of worship; that no one shall be compelled by law to attend any place of worship; nor to pay any tithes, taxes or other rate for building or repairing any place of worship, or for maintaining any minister or ministry; that no religious test shall be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under this state; and that the civil rights, privileges, and capacities of any citizen shall not be in any manner affected by his religious principles.
-- Section 3 of the State Constitution, quoted from AANEWS #948 (8/15/01) from American Atheists

The sole and only legitimate end of government is to protect the citizen in the enjoyment of life, liberty, and property, and when the Government assumes other functions it is usurpation and oppression.
-- quoted by W E H Lecky, Democracy and Liberty, (volume i., page 118) in Richard Robinson, An Atheist's Values (page 220).

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US State of Georgia Constitution 1798

No person within this state shall upon any pretence, be deprived of the inestimable privilege of worshipping God, in a manner agreeable to his own conscience, nor be compelled to attend any place of worship, contrary to his own faith and judgment, nor shall he ever be obligated to pay tithes, taxes, or any other rate, for the building or repairing of any place of worship, or for the maintenance of any minister or ministry, contrary to what he believes to be right, or hath voluntarily engaged to do. No one religious society shall ever be established in this state in preference to another, nor shall any person be denied the enjoyment of any civil right merely on account of his religious principles.
-- (1798), from Albert J Menendez and Edd Doerr, The Great Quotations on Religious Freedom

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US State of Illinois Constitution 1870

Neither the general assembly nor any county, city, town, township, school district or other public corporation shall ever make any appropriation or pay from any public fund whatever, anything in aid of any church or sectarian purpose, or to help support or sustain any school, academy, seminary, college, university or other literary or scientific institution, controlled by any church or sectarian denomination whatever; nor shall any grant or donation of land, money or other personal property ever be made by the State or any such public corporation to any church or for any sectarian purpose.
-- (1870), from Albert J Menendez and Edd Doerr, The Great Quotations on Religious Freedom

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US State of Kentucky Constitution 1792

That all men have a natural and indefeasible right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own consciences; that no man of right can be compelled to attend, erect, or support any place of worship, or to maintain any ministry against his consent; that no human authority can in any case whatever control or interfere with the rights of conscience; and that no preference shall ever be given by law to any religious societies or modes of worship.

That the civil rights, privileges, or capacities of any citizen shall in no ways be diminished or enlarged on account of his religion.
-- Article XII, Sections 3 and 4, from Albert J Menendez and Edd Doerr, The Great Quotations on Religious Freedom

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US Federal Government

Because supervisors have the power to hire, fire or promote, employees may reasonably perceive their supervisors' religious expression as coercive, even if it was not intended as such.... Therefore, supervisors should be careful to ensure that their statements and actions are such that employees do not perceive any coercion ... and should, where necessary, take appropriate steps to dispel such misperceptions.
-- US Federal Government, describing how public service supervisors and department heads must be especially careful with religious activities or statements, in "Guidelines on Religious Exercise and Religious Expression in the Federal Workplace," issued in 1997 after bipartisan negotiations, quoted from Dan Eggen, "Ashcroft's Faith Plays Visible Role at Justice: Bible Sessions With Staffers Draw Questions and Criticism" (Washington Post, May 14, 2001)

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Court Rulings

1992: Lee v. Weisman

Our society would be less than true to its heritage if it lacked abiding concern for the values of its young people, and we acknowledge the profound belief of adherents to many faiths that there must be a place in the student's life for precepts of a morality higher even than the law we today enforce. We express no hostility to those aspirations, nor would our oath permit us to do so. A relentless and all-pervasive attempt to exclude religion from every aspect of public life could itself become inconsistent with the Constitution. We recognize that, at graduation time and throughout the course of the educational process, there will be instances when religious values, religious practices, and religious persons will have some interaction with the public schools and their students. But these matters, often questions of accommodation of religion, are not before us. The sole question presented is whether a religious exercise may be conducted at a graduation ceremony in circumstances where, as we have found, young graduates who object are induced to conform. No holding by this Court suggests that a school can persuade or compel a student to participate in a religious exercise. That is being done here, and it is forbidden by the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
-- Majority Opinion, Lee v. Weisman, 505 US 577 (1992)

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Engel v. Vitale (1962)
United States Supreme Court

The US Supreme Court ruled that public school officials could not require pupils to recite a state-composed prayer at the start of each school day, even if the prayer was nondenominational and pupils who so desired could be excused from reciting it, because such official state sanction of religious utterances was an unconstitutional attempt to establish religion.
-- The World Almanac and Book of Facts (1997)

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Ring v. Board of Education (1910)
Illinois Supreme Court

The exclusion of a pupil from this part of the school exercises in which the rest of the school joins, separates him from his fellows, puts him in
a class by himself, deprives him of his equality with the other pupils, subjects him to a religious stigma and places him at a disadvantage in the school.

-- Illinois Supreme Court, Ring v. Board of Education, 1910

The public school is supported by the taxes which each citizen, regardless of his religion or his
lack of it, is compelled to pay. The school, like the government, is simply a civil institution. It is secular and not religious in its purposes.
-- Illinois Supreme Court, Ring v. Board of Education, 1910

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Weiss v. District Board (1890)
Supreme Court of Wisconsin

There is no such source and cause of strife, quarrel, fights, malignant opposition, persecution, and war, and all evil in the state, as religion. Let it once enter into our civil affairs, our government soon would be destroyed. Let it once enter our common schools, they would be destroyed. Those who made our Constitution saw this, and used the most apt and comprehensive language in it to prevent such a catastrophe.
-- Supreme Court of Wisconsin, Weiss v. District Board, March 18, 1890, from James A Haught, ed, 2000 Years of Disbelief

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Everson v. Board of Education
United States Supreme Court

The "establishment of religion" clause of the First Amendment means at least this: Neither a state nor the Federal Government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another. Neither can force nor influence a person to go to or to remain away from church against his will or force him to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion.
-- Justice Hugo Black, Majority opinion, Everson v Board of Education

No tax in any amount, large or small, can be levied to support any religious activities or institutions, whatever they may be called or whatever form they may adopt to teach or practice religion.
-- Everson v. Board, 1947, 330 US at 15).

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Minor v. Ohio

The defendants had pointed out that the Constitution of Ohio, based upon an adaption of the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, contained the following provision:

    Religion, morality, and knowledge, however, being essential to good government, it shall be the duty of the general assembly to pass suitable laws to protect every religious denomination in the peaceable enjoyment of its own mode of worship, and to encourage schools and the means of instruction.

They argued from this that the public schools not only were permitted but were required to provide religious instruction in order to fulfill the injunction of the Constitution, irrespective of the wishes or consciences of the people concerned.

The court ruled, however, that the constitutional clause means that the word "knowledge" embraces all that is comprehended in "religion" and "morality" which can be the subject of human instruction. Therefore, nothing was enjoined upon the schools but to encourage the means of instruction of general "knowledge." Judge Welch argued that "religion" and "morality" are aided by the increase and diffusion of "knowledge" and that in this sense all three are essential to good government, but there is no direction given as to what system of knowledge should be taught or what is the true religion, morality, or knowledge. These matters are left to the legislature, subject to the limitations on legislative power regarding religious freedom as contained in the bill of rights. This limitation would prevent the legislature from defining or promoting religious doctrine. The court then points out that what the defendants are really arguing for is that "religion" means the Christian religion. This interpretation cannot be admitted for it would then establish Christianity as the law of the state:

    Legal Christianity is a solecism, a contradiction of terms. When Christianity asks the aid of government beyond mere impartial protection, it denies itself. It's laws are divine, not human. Its essential interests lie beyond the reach and range of human government. United with government, religion never rises above the merest superstition; united with religion, government never rises above the merest despotism; and all history shows us that the more widely and completely they are separated, the better is for both.

    Religion is not -- much less is Christianity or any other particular system of religion -- named in the preamble to the constitution of the United States as one of the declared objects of government; nor is it mentioned in the clause in question, in our own constitution, as being essential to anything beyond mere human government.

-- from R Freeman Butts, The American Tradition in Religion and Education, 1950, pp. 138-140

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Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971)

First, the statute must have a secular legislative purpose; second, its principle or primary effect must be one that neither advances nor inhibits religion...; finally, the statute must not foster "an excessive government entanglement with religion."
-- 'Lemon Test' for determining whether a law meets the Establishment Clause of the US Constitution

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Stone v. Graham (1980)

The Supreme Court justices declared, "Posting of [the Ten Commandments] on the wall serves no...educational function. If the posted copies of the Ten Commandments are to have an effect at all, it will be to induce the schoolchildren to read, meditate upon, and perhaps to venerate and obey, the Commandments. However desirable this might be as a matter of private devotion, it is not a permissible state objective under the Establishment Clause."

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Webb v. Town of Republic (1998)
US District Court for the Western District of Missouri (Southern Division)

The portrayal of the fish impermissibly excludes other religious beliefs or nonbeliefs and--intended or not--depicts Christianity as the religion recognized and endorsed by the residents of Republic.The Republic city seal pervasively invades the daily lives of non-Christians and sends a message that they are outsiders. The Constitution forbids such a result.
-- Russell G Clark, Jummary Judgement in Webb v. Town of Republic (Missouri), regarding its use of the Jesus Fish symbol on the town seal (ACLU Ozarks Chapter)

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Reynolds v. United States, 1879
US Supreme Court defines the word religion; Jefferson's 'Wall of Separation' in Danbury Baptist letter is 'accepted almost as an authoritative declaration' of the amendment (Mormon polygamy case)

The word 'religion' is not defined in the Constitution. We must go elsewhere, therefore, to ascertain its meaning, and nowhere more appropriately, we think, than to the history of the times in the midst of which the provision was adopted. The precise point of the inquiry is, what is the religious freedom which has been guaranteed.
     Before the adoption of the Constitution, attempts were made in some of the colonies and States to legislate not only in respect to the establishment of religion, but in respect to its doctrines and precepts as well. The people were taxed, against their will, for the support of religion, and sometimes for the support of particular sects to whose tenets they could not and did not subscribe. Punishments were prescribed for a failure to attend upon public worship, and sometimes for entertaining [98 US 145, 163] heretical opinions. The controversy upon this general subject was animated in many of the States, but seemed at last to culminate in Virginia. In 1784, the House of Delegates of that State having under consideration 'a bill establishing provision for teachers of the Christian religion,' postponed it until the next session, and directed that the bill should be published and distributed, and that the people be requested 'to signify their opinion respecting the adoption of such a bill at the next session of assembly.'
     This brought out a determined opposition. Amongst others, Mr. Madison prepared a 'Memorial and Remonstrance,' which was widely circulated and signed, and in which he demonstrated 'that religion, or the duty we owe the Creator,' was not within the cognizance of civil government. Semple's Virginia Baptists, Appendix. At the next session the proposed bill was not only defeated, but another, 'for establishing religious freedom,' drafted by Mr. Jefferson, was passed. 1 Jeff. Works, 45; 2 Howison, Hist. of Va. 298. In the preamble of this act (12 Hening's Stat. 84) religious freedom is defined; and after a recital 'that to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion, and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles on supposition of their ill tendency, is a dangerous fallacy which at once destroys all religious liberty,' it is declared 'that it is time enough for the rightful purposes of civil government for its officers to interfere when principles break out into overt acts against peace and good order.' In these two sentences is found the true distinction between what properly belongs to the church and what to the State.
     In a little more than a year after the passage of this statute the convention met which prepared the Constitution of the United States.' Of this convention Mr. Jefferson was not a member, he being then absent as minister to France. As soon as he saw the draft of the Constitution proposed for adoption, he, in a letter to a friend, expressed his disappointment at the absence of an express declaration insuring the freedom of religion (2 Jeff. Works, 355), but was willing to accept it as it was, trusting that the good sense and honest intentions of the people would bring about the necessary alterations. [98 US 145, 164] 1 Jeff. Works, 79. Five of the States, while adopting the Constitution, proposed amendments. Three-New Hampshire, New York, and Virginia-included in one form or another a declaration of religious freedom in the changes they desired to have made, as did also North Carolina, where the convention at first declined to ratify the Constitution until the proposed amendments were acted upon. Accordingly, at the first session of the first Congress the amendment now under consideration was proposed with others by Mr. Madison. It met the views of the advocates of religious freedom, and was adopted. Mr. Jefferson afterwards, in reply to an address to him by a committee of the Danbury Baptist Association (8 id. 113), took occasion to say: 'Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God; that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship; that the legislative powers of the government reach actions only, and not opinions,-I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' thus building a wall of separation between church and State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore man to all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.' Coming as this does from an acknowledged leader of the advocates of the measure, it may be accepted almost as an authoritative declaration of the scope and effect of the amendment thus secured. Congress was deprived of all legislative power over mere opinion, but was left free to reach actions which were in violation of social duties or subversive of good order.

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Legislation

No school ... in which any religious sectarian doctrine shall be taught ... shall receive any portion of the school moneys.
-- New York State, Bill passed by legislature, April 11, 1842

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Treaties

Treaty of Tripoli

As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion--as it has itself no character of enmity against the law, religion or tranquility of Musselmen [Muslims] ...
-- Article 11, "Treaty of Peace and Friendship between The United States and the Bey and Subjects of Tripoli of Barbary," 1796-1797

Now be it known, that I, John Adams, President of the United States of America, having seen and considered the said treaty do, by and within the consent of the Senate, accept, ratify and confirm the same, and every clause and article thereof.
-- John Adams, upon ratifying the Treaty of Tripoli quoted from Hunter Miller, Treaties and Other International Acts of the United States of America, Vol. 2 (1776-1818), (1931)

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