…is that it is often misused. Let’s look at the entire Amendment:
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.
I am of course only concerned with the first part dealing with religion, and I promise I’ll be brief on this issue (I’m autistic, so you will end up thanking me for this promise). I’ve come to realize, thanks largely to Mormonism and Scientology, that if you want to have your ridiculous and arcane opinions and actions protected then start a religion around them and give it anywhere from 10-150 years. And that of course is the problem in a nutshell: religion is the ultimate “opt out” clause, in this case opting out of secular civil society and its laws. Far from wanting freedom from state interference or persecution, the appeal to the 1st Amendment by religious organizations has become a way to attempt to skirt the law that applies to everyone else. They fail to realize that in a CIVIL SOCIETY you must give up some freedoms (i.e. the freedom to actively discriminate against women) when you seek the protections of that society. That is where the problem with the 1st Amendment really becomes clear: In a Constitution that clearly outlines the supremacy of the state and the civil society it represents, a Constitution written by men who hated the influence that religion had on affairs of state and affairs of the family and society, why should an Amendment to that document be construed to protect the right of religion to subvert and ignore civil law and civil rights?
The 1st Amendment must protect the right of individuals to BELIEVE in what they wish to believe, there is nothing that says that they be allowed to ACT on those beliefs. Especially not in the realm of civil society, where the equality of all before the law is the only way such a society can function. No, congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, but congress, and the rest of civil government including the executive and judicial branches, can, and indeed must make laws respecting an establishment of a system that respects human rights.
Besides, the Church (and Mosque, and Temple, and Pagan prayer center etc.) is in a way established by the fact that their incomes and properties are not taxed. The assertion that religious institutions do not represent a viable or influential part of civil society and government policy is a bad joke. From pulpits across the nation Preachers hurl invective against elected officials and their policy proposals. They instruct, or “suggest “ that their followers vote for causes that explicitly line up with their theological and moral interests. If a Council of Bishops demanding that the President of the United States carve out an exception for them in response to a democratically passed Health Care law, then where will they stop? Next do they wish to be exempt from hate crimes laws? Employment discrimination? Sexual harassment laws? Oh wait, they already do.
The First Amendment is important. It must be retained as a tool to protect minorities against persecution based on faith, and it must be used to assert that each and every person may believe whatever they wish to believe and practice that belief within their own home. The First Amendment cannot, however, be used as a loophole for religious institutions to place their own personal moralities above the ethics and laws of the people of the Civil Society.