Skip to Main Content

What Is the Significance of the Free Exercise Clause?

55 min


  • Students will explain the significance of the Free Exercise clause.
  • Students will compare/contrast the Founders’ views about the free practice of religion.
  • Students will assess various Free Exercise conflicts.
  • Students will appreciate ongoing challenges to religious liberty.

  1. Have students complete the third column on Handout A: Free Exercise Anticipation Guide.
    1. Discuss whether the students’ opinions matched the Supreme Court opinions.
  2. Have students complete Handout C: Ten Commandments on Public Property Scenario.
    1. Hold a large group discussion about the case in the scenario. Have students support their answers with information about the case.
      1. What did the majority opinion state?
      2. What did the dissent state?
      3. Did Kentucky violate the Establishment Clause?

  1. Distribute Handout D: Restrictions on the Free Exercise of Religion. Give students 4-5 minutes to complete the ratings individually, and then another 4-5 minutes to share with a partner.
  2. Reconvene the entire class (or use a response system) to determine which situations were most often considered least/most restrictive of religious liberty. If the class generally agrees about which examples are most or least restrictive, ask students why they think that is. If the class is split evenly between answers, have students discuss the reasons behind their answers.
  3. Once all situations have been reviewed, discuss the following questions:
    1. Were there any examples in which it was difficult to decide? Why?
    2. Is the Supreme Court the only institution that can resolve conflicts over free exercise? If so, why? If not, who else (or what else) can?

  1. Have students choose one of the cases discussed in Handout B and create a modified Briefing Sheet for the case that includes the following:
    1. Title of the Case
    2. Constitutional question raised by the law being challenged
    3. Arguments in favor of the law
    4. Arguments in favor of the individual claiming a violation of the right of free exercise
    5. How you would decide the case and why
    6. How the Court decided the case
  2. Have students survey their friends/family about their attitudes toward freedom of religion.
  3. Have students research parts of the world where the free exercise of religion is limited or nonexistent (e.g., parts of the Islamic world; communities in Europe where Sharia law prevails; Communist nations such as North Korea) and present their research to the class.
  4. Have students research free exercise issues related to the Affordable Care Act or any of the other contemporary questions raised in the last paragraph of Handout B. Student research should focus on how they personally will be affected by the answers to the questions.

Student Handouts

Related Resources