The U.S. Congress: Protecting and Accommodating Religion

Allen D. Hertzke

in The Oxford Handbook of Church and State in the United States

Published in print November 2010 | ISBN: 9780195326246
Published online January 2011 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks

The U.S. Congress: Protecting and Accommodating Religion

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This article discusses the role played by Congress in protecting the free exercise of religion and in demarcating the boundaries between church and state. The U.S. Congress has always been a defender of religious freedom while simultaneously taking a more accommodating stance toward the constitutional prohibition against state establishment. This blend mirrors the effort of the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses of the First Amendment to assuage the expansive practice of religion in the nation. On both fronts, however, the limits to which Congress is willing to stretch are disclosed. For instance, it denied the free exercise claims of the Mormons in the nineteenth century, prohibited polygamy, rebuffed attempts to sanction overt sectarian favoritism by the government, and resisted efforts to proclaim America as a Christian nation.

Keywords: congress; church and state; religion; U.S. Congress; religious freedom; state establishment; free exercise

Article.  7398 words. 

Subjects: Politics ; US Politics ; Comparative Politics

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