Teaching About Freedom of Religion

Introduction

Freedom of religion is protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The First Amendment enforces the “separation of church and state” by forbidding laws that establish a national religion or infringe on the free exercise of religion. Religious freedom is important because it protects people’s ability to live according to their religious values and beliefs without needing to conform to a certain culture or government. Religious freedom benefits everyone and treats people of all faiths equally, so they can all live peaceful together. Teaching about religious freedom is important because students will be given the opportunity to learn about one of the most prominent elements of the American democracy!

Resources

There are many resources available online for teaching about freedom of religion. For educators who also want their students to learn about world religions in order to become more tolerant of other peoples’ beliefs, United 4 Social Change has a topic resource on Teaching About World Religions.

Lesson Plans

  1. First Amendment Lesson Plan – Religion in Public Schools: The Free Speech Center provides a lesson plan focused on the First Amendment and religion in public schools. The lesson presents two opposing hypothetical situations involving religion in public schools. It is up to students to identify why each of the schools’ actions were wrong under the First Amendment. Then, students will be asked to research First Amendment religious-freedom violations in the news or in the resources provided.
  2. Learning for Justice
    1. The First Amendment and Freedom of Religion: In the lesson, students will read about the case of Park51’s Islamic Cultural Center, leading into a discussion about whether religious freedom is absolute and if religious freedom requires respect for other religions. This lesson is great for educators who want to teach their students about religious freedom and tolerance at the same time!
  1. Free to Believe!: This lesson from Learning for Justice introduces the concept of freedom of religion to students and asks them to consider how they may respond in a situation where someone with different beliefs than them has their religious freedom challenged.
  1. Religion and the First Amendment: PBS LearningMedia has put together a lesson plan where students will learn about the First Amendment and its protection of religious freedom. In a few learning activities, students will learn about several diverse religious traditions, recognize that religious differences often are a source of controversy and conflict, and ultimately prepare and present a project about freedom of religion.
  2. Freedom of Religion: Annenberg Learner provides a workshop for teachers about freedom of religion. Kristen Borges is a ninth-grade civics teacher who performs a simulation of a U.S. Supreme Court hearing on a First Amendment case with students. A workshop session, lesson plan, teacher and student perspectives, essential readings, and other lessons are included. From this resource, educators will be able to analyze the methodologies highlighted in the lesson, which include questioning strategies and mock trials. 

Articles

  1. Religious Liberty Should Do No Harm: The Center for American Progress has published an article discussing how policymakers should ensure religious liberty extends to all Americans and is not misused as a license to discriminate. The authors first talk about how the Trump Administration exploited religious liberty to deny access to health care and discriminate against particular groups of people. Then, they explain how and why these actions were threats to the separation of church and state before lastly detailing the policies and practices that will reinstate a balanced and inclusive vision of religious liberty. For educators who want to teach their students about freedom of religion and the Trump Administration, this article will be very useful!
  2. Religious Freedom is the Cornerstone of Our Democracy: The Political Research Associates provides an article on how religious freedom is the cornerstone of our democracy. Fredrick Clarkson, who was a guest speaker at one Sunday morning meeting of the New York Society for Ethical Culture, offers his prepared remarks on how religious freedom is a progressive value. A 45-minute video of his speech is also included!
  3. The New York Times – Freedom of Religion: The New York Times has put together a collection of articles with topics related to freedom of religion. Recent pieces on the Indonesian decree that schools cannot make girls wear head scarves, the Supreme Court partly backing a religious challenge to California’s virus restrictions, and the Supreme Court upholding Trump’s Muslim Ban are all included! For educators who want to teach their students about freedom of religion through discussing modern day events that have either promoted or obstructed freedom of religion, this resource is essential!

Informational Sites

  1. Freedom Forum Institute – Freedom of Religion: The Freedom Forum Institute provides an abundance of resources on freedom of religion, specifically religion in public life, the establishment clause, the free-exercise clause, and religious liberty in public schools.
  2. Your Right to Religious Freedom: The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) offers some information about the right to religious freedom in the United States in the form of questions and answers. Educators can either have students view this information via a link to the article or in the form of a brief guide with images.
  3. What in the World is Religious Freedom?: The Religious Freedom Institute provides an article on what religious freedom is. The author, Thomas Farr, explains religious freedom from the American founding to the present, what religion is, what religious freedom is, and the growing global crisis of religious freedom.
  4. History.com – Freedom of Religion: History.com has published an informational article on freedom of religion. The article discusses religion in Colonial America, Roger Williams, the First Amendment, religious intolerance in the United States, landmark Supreme Court cases, and Muslim travel bands.
  5. What You Need to Know About Religious Freedom: Heritage.org offers an article on what people need to know about religious freedom, which will help promote an understanding of religious freedom, who benefits from religious freedom, the benefits of religious freedom, the consequences of restricting religious freedom, and more.

Videos

  1. The following videos provide students with an overview of freedom of religion in the United States. For educators who want to supplement their lessons with a video, there are a few good options below to choose from!
    1. Freedom of Religion – Crash Course Government and Politics #24
    2. America’s Biggest Issues – Religious Freedom
    3. Religious Liberty

Conclusion

Teaching about freedom of religion may be a daunting task, but it is a very important one. We live in a country of diverse religions. Therefore, understanding why religious freedom is necessary in order to maintain peace and order is crucial. This may also be a great opportunity to teach students about religious tolerance with Teaching Religious Tolerance and America’s True History of Religious Tolerance!

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