Impact Of The First And Fourteenth Amendments On Religious Freedoms

1361 words - 6 pages

Religion is an essential and complex facet of the American psyche. It plays a key role in supporting the ideal of American exceptionalism and has done so from Independence to the present day. Religion also plays a role in national identification through the “Americanisation” of religion. The emergence of transcendentalism, cults, evangelical sects, and Christian Zionism have all been a result of both the “Americanisation” of faith and American exceptionalism. The importance of religion to America as a nation, means that religion is granted certain freedoms that make passing laws regulating it difficult. The first and fourteenth amendments essentially protect the establishment of any religion as well as protecting the freedom to exercise this religion, whilst creating a distinctly separate Church and State. The religious freedom granted in these amendments has changed over time, though not extensively.

Transcendentalism was the first uniquely American spiritual philosophy. It emerged in the late 1820s as a radically democratic response to religion in the wake of the disestablishment of state religion. It rejected many of the constructs of modern America in the Industrial age and encouraged one to be socially conscious, promoting opposition to slavery and support for women’s suffrage. It is because of the religious freedoms granted to Americans in the first amendment that a religious movement like this is able to emerge. Transcendentalism helped vocalise many of the ideals so valued in modern America. Through his 1855 version of “Song of Myself” Walt Whitman embodies the American national through a transcendentalist frame. The notion of what it means to be an American is expressed through the recurring image of the leaf of grass in the poem, from his observation of a “spear of summer grass” Whitman is able to conceive the entire cosmos. Whitman uses the image of a blade of grass to represent the American national as existing everywhere, viewed equally to the other blades of grass and existing collectively as well as individually. In “I Sing the Body Electric” there is a clear sense of equality between the sexes, as demonstrated in “The male is perfect, and that of the female is perfect.” This egalitarian view humanity demonstrates Whitman’s transcendentalist perspective both through the description of both the male and female as equally perfect and by focusing on the purely physical, bodily being, he does not discriminate along racial or class lines. Hence, the disestablishment of state religion in the wake of the first amendment lead to the establishment of religions that are inherently American and as such, portray uniquely American ideals like the emphasis on individualism.

The first amendment allowed a spiritual philosophy like Transcendentalism to arise, but it has also had a key part in allowing cults to emerge and to flourish. The 1944 United States vs. Ballard case marked a significant change in legal approaches towards...

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