Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
The Bill of Rights begins with the First Amendment, which enumerates a number of interlocking freedoms that work together to form the basis of the religious freedom we enjoy in this country. The first is the Establishment Clause, which clearly limits the government from setting up a religion of its own or favoring one religion over another.
Following that is the Free Exercise Clause, which prohibits government interference in religious practice. In short, this means that the government cannot use its lawmaking power to outlaw religious beliefs. If a law has an adverse effect on a religion then such a law is subject to stringent legal tests to validate that the government has a compelling interest and that the law isn’t being used to unfairly target religious practice.
It is significant that these religious rights are the first rights mentioned in the amendment. The right of Freedom of Speech comes next, and obviously protects religious as well as secular speech. Within the context of religion the right to freedom of expression is important. Government can neither prohibit nor compel religious speech. This applies not only to sermons but also includes religious rites in which speech is a core part of the ceremony.
The Freedom of the Press comes next, and along with the right of assembly and to petition the government. Because of press freedoms, a religion has the right to publish its point of view on moral matters and advocate for or against government policies that will affect the broader society. This isn’t a right to win such battles, but a right to participate in public discourse and present arguments for consideration.
The Supreme Court has also held that the First Amendment creates an implicit right of freedom of association, which includes a right of groups, including religions, to exclude people from membership in the group.
All of these rights together form powerful protections for the practice of religion.
These rights have served our country well for over 200 years and will be the key to maintaining a tolerant, pluralistic society going forward, in which people are free to practice the religion of their choosing and also participate in policy debates without fear of government reprisal.
Occasionally within the LDS Church one will hear of fears that one day the government will mandate that the Church conduct temple ceremonies that are contrary to its beliefs and practices.
Such a mandate would violate nearly every aspect of the First Amendment.
It would on its face violate the Establishment Clause and the tests currently used to measure a law against this clause.
It would be a clear violation of the Free Exercise Clause, by compelling an organization to conduct a religious rite to which it is opposed. This would be the equivalent of the government mandating that a church baptize someone or even a mandate to create a new ordinance to meet government demands. Such examples are clearly unconstitutional.
A government requirement to conduct an ordinance for someone would also be a violation of Freedom of Association. Churches have discretion to determine membership requirements and requirements for participation in religious rites.
I support our Constitution and cherish the freedoms it provides. The protections of the First Amendment are a foundation stone of our society and have been an example to the world since the time of their adoption. If elected I will work to protect the freedoms we enjoy and will work to make sure the beliefs of all people are treated with respect.