Religion is mentioned twice in the U.S. Constitution. The final provision of Article VI states, “…no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” The First Amendment, which lists basic rights of the people, begins, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; …” And the Fourteenth Amendment, enacted in 1868 after the end of the Civil War, extended the protections granted under the Constitution to the states. “… [N]or shall any state … deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
Like every other right guaranteed in the Constitution, freedom of religion is not absolute. Over the years courts have been called on to mediate between conflicting claims, and Congress and state legislators have seen the need to define and amplify or restrict the way freedom of religion is applied in specific instances. In some cases accommodation is made in favor of religion, such as the granting of conscientious objector status to those who do not believe in participating in armed conflict and the exemption of the Amish from the requirement that young people receive formal education to age 16. In other cases such accommodations have been denied. Some examples of the latter are the requirement imposed on the Mormons of Utah to abandon the practice of polygamy before Utah was granted statehood, and the jailing of Schwartzentruber Amish elders for failure to comply with septic system ordinances.