By Ian Speir. Providence / Spring/Summer 2018
The first clauses of the First Amendment to the US Constitution pertain to religious freedom. The Bill of Rights opens with these words: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
To the extent the Constitution is our national scripture, there’s a temptation to read into that, to commit a kind of constitutional eisegesis, inferring from the textual primacy of religious freedom a political or philosophical primacy. And indeed, many today are in the habit of referring to religious freedom as our “First Freedom.” Thomas Curry’s 1986 book The First Freedoms is regularly cited in the Supreme Court’s church-state decisions. In 2007, the Department of Justice launched the “First Freedom Project” to step up enforcement of laws protecting religious liberty. And in 2012, PBS aired The First Freedom, a film that traces the history of religious freedom from an abstract idea to a legal right enshrined in our Constitution.