Date Presented

Winter 2-2014

Document Type


Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


Religious Studies

First Advisor

Dr. Stephen Dawson

Second Advisor

Dr. Amy Merrill-Willis

Third Advisor

Dr. Adam Dean


The First Amendment to the United States Constitution contains within it two distinct clauses, the first guarantees the free exercise of religion clause, the second prevents the establishment of a national church. Stating that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof’, this clause ensured that these United States would never have an official state church and that citizens could not be penalized for practicing their own faith. This was a major innovation. There did exist some provision for certain sects within the legal frame work, such as exemptions from the swearing of oaths granted solely to the Quakers1, this was done on a case by case basis and was not built into the social contract. Dissenters in Virginia had been granted religious toleration, but never freedom. Toleration often came with financial or social penalties for the exercise of one's own personal beliefs. Not only would all religions be able to be practiced within absolute freedom in the United States but unlike every other contemporary western municipality, there would be no official state church.