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Freedom of Religion - Religious Belief

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Among the unique characteristics of being human is the ability to create and communicate abstract thoughts such as religious beliefs. For much of human history religion has served as a means to socially unify individuals into groups. Early in the human experience, religion likely served to explain natural events and create order out of the world. The doctrine of salvation evolved based on the belief that individuals are in danger, either physically or spiritually, from which they must be saved. Religion thus served to order and regulate peoples' lives in addition to defining their place in the natural world. Religion has also served as an expression of a community's moral values and collective beliefs. Religious doctrines explain how the world is and how it should be.

Through the Constitution the country's founders created a world in which religion could flourish, but not dominate social order. But, at the time the Constitution was drafted, this country had a relatively homogeneous, mostly Protestant Christian population. Religion was primarily a set of beliefs and practices associated with a divine being, and was thereby theistic in nature. In the increasingly secular (non-religious) world of twentieth century Western Society, freedom of religion gained a different meaning than in eighteenth century America. The eight major religions practiced to various degrees in the United States by the late twentieth century were Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Confucianism, Hinduism, and Taoism. Though state and federal laws cannot interfere with such diverse religious beliefs and opinions, laws can restrict actual practice. Deciding what specific circumstances allow governmental interference with religious conduct has formed the basis for much confusion and debate.

Freedom of Religion - Growth Of Religious Tolerance [next]

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