The Religion Clauses of the First Amendment

The First Amendment provides, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . . ." These two clauses are known, respectively, as the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause. Although only sixteen words in length, these two clauses have spawned millions of words interpreting them. In Everson v. Board of Education, 330 U.S. 1 (1947), the Supreme Court gave a concise history of the events leading to the Religion Clauses of the First Amendment. See Everson, 330 U.S. at 8-16. The Court described how governments throughout history had used tax monies to subsidize favored religions and had placed onerous burdens, if not outright prohibitions, on disfavored religions. See id. The Court stated that the First Amendment, "for the preservation of civil liberty, rescued the temporal institutions from religious interference . . . and it has secured religious liberty from the invasions of the civil authority." Everson, 330 U.S. at 15. The Religion Clauses were "intended to erect 'a wall of separation between Church and State.'" Everson, 330 U.S. at 16.