The right to freedom of religion is so central to American democracy that it was enshrined in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Recognizing the unique and intimate nature of religion, the Founding Fathers wisely put religion on a different footing in the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment from other forms of speech and observance - mandating strict separation of religion and government to ensure religious freedom for all individuals and faiths. Largely because of the First Amendment's prohibition against government regulation or endorsement of religion, diverse faiths have flourished and thrived in America since the founding of the republic.
Some claim that the First Amendment's Establishment Clause does not really require separation of religion and government because the phrase "separation of church and state" does not appear in the First Amendment. And others go farther - claiming that the Constitution and our nation's government are based on a particular faith or religious beliefs.
Both claims are false. While it is true that the words "separation of church and state" do not appear in the Constitution, the writings of key Founding Fathers, other documents from the period, and statements by subsequent U.S. Presidents demonstrate that our government is not based on any religion, and the founders intended a separation of church and state to ensure religious freedom.
The following are notable quotations and statements expressing that intent.