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Freedom of Religion - The Changing Concept Of Religion

belief religions theistic beliefs

After World War II and the inception of the Cold War, a revival of religion grew again but this time more integrally, including Catholics and Jews into a new Judeo-Christian tradition reflecting the ever increasing pluralism. Although Congress amended the Pledge of Allegiance by adding "under God" after "One nation," belief systems not based on the belief in a divine being gained prominence in the United States, including Buddhism, Taoism, and "Secular Humanism." In Torcaso v. Watkins (1961), the Court wrote that "those religions based on a belief in the existence of God as against those religions founded on different beliefs" may not be favored. Military draft cases of the 1960s broadened the view of religion to include non-traditional belief systems. The Court held in 1965 that a person did not have to believe in a Supreme Being, a theistic belief, to claim conscientious objector status to military service. In 1970 the Court held this status applied to persons objecting to war simply on moral grounds. Theistic religions could not be favored over non-theistic beliefs.

With the continually changing perception of what religion was, in 1981 a circuit court in Africa v. Pennsylvania attempted to define religion in a new expanded form. For a belief to be religious it must address fundamental questions about deep and imponderable matters, and be comprehensive rather than narrow in scope. It may commonly tangible symbols such as clergy or texts. These traits would tend to distinguish religions from personal philosophical views.

Debates over what religion is in constitutional law persisted as religious values and beliefs became increasingly important in U.S. politics. The concept must be broad and inclusive enough to recognize a variety of faiths, yet not so broad as to hinder government in supporting moral goals. Some suggested using different definitions for the two religious clauses with a narrower perception of traditional religions under the Free Exercise Clause, and more broadly belief systems of all types under the Establishment Clause. Proponents of narrower definitions fell back to what the framers considered religion, which was theistic and not just moral views on subjects. To them belief in a superior power distinguished religion from moral beliefs. Such would not necessarily be the case with the narrower interpretation.

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