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What is Freedom of Religion?

Freedom of Religion is a fundamental right safeguarding individuals' ability to follow their spiritual beliefs without persecution. It ensures diverse faiths coexist, fostering a society where tolerance and understanding thrive. This liberty is pivotal for democracy, echoing the essence of personal choice and expression. How does this freedom shape our world today? Join us as we explore its profound impact.
Felicia Dye
Felicia Dye

Freedom of religion refers to a group of liberties that allows people to choose whether to worship and how to worship. International authorities generally regard these liberties to be human rights and in many countries they are considered to be constitutional rights. Although these liberties are widely included in laws around the globe, they are exercised and enforced to varying degrees.

This concept grants people a number of rights. To begin with, it allows individuals to choose which deities to believe in. For example, Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that God’s name is Jehovah and he has a son called Jesus Christ. Muslims believe that the creator of all things is called Allah and they do not recognize Allah as having a son. In a place where there is freedom of religion, a person can choose to believe in either of these or any other deities. This includes the liberty to believe in multiple deities.

Freedom of religion refers to the constitutional right that allows people to choose whether to worship a religion and how to worship.
Freedom of religion refers to the constitutional right that allows people to choose whether to worship a religion and how to worship.

A person can also choose not to believe in God at all. Atheists should be protected by the same rights as religious followers. In a society where people are free to choose their religions, they are also generally free to change them. Furthermore, each adult should be free to make the choice for herself. This means that a man, for example, should not be granted the right to declare a religion for his family.

Hasidic man praying at the Kotel (Wailing Wall).
Hasidic man praying at the Kotel (Wailing Wall).

Freedom of religion grants a person the right to observe whatever religion has been chosen. That means that followers should be able to possess religious material, gather in places of worships, and generally live lifestyles that reflect their beliefs. For example, Jews should be free to observe the holidays outlined by their faith and eat according to their beliefs. At the same time, Christians should not have Jewish practices imposed upon them.

There are limitations on these liberties, however. Worship does not entitle people to break the law. A person in the United States (US) cannot lawfully commit murder because his beliefs call for human sacrifice.

Freedom of Religion was important to the Founding Fathers and remains a key part of American society today.
Freedom of Religion was important to the Founding Fathers and remains a key part of American society today.

Some countries have laws that allegedly grant citizens freedom of religion. However, those rights are not always consistently or efficiently protected. When true freedom of religious belief exists, people should not be penalized for their beliefs. In some countries, despite the existence of law, it is an open practice to restrict the best educational, social, and employment opportunities to members of the religious majority. In these countries, people may also be persecuted for choosing their beliefs.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the definition of freedom of religion?

Freedom of religion is the right of individuals to choose, change, express, and practice the religion of their choice, or to abstain from any religious belief, without interference or restriction by the government. This right is enshrined in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits Congress from making laws respecting an establishment of religion or impeding the free exercise of religion.

How does freedom of religion differ from freedom of worship?

Freedom of religion encompasses a broader range of practices and beliefs, including the right to express one's faith publicly, to engage in religiously motivated actions, and to participate in the social and cultural aspects of one's religion. Freedom of worship, on the other hand, is often understood as the right to pray and participate in religious ceremonies, typically within a private or designated sacred space, and may not include the public expression or practice of religious beliefs.

Are there any limitations to freedom of religion?

Yes, while freedom of religion is a fundamental right, it is not absolute. Governments may impose limitations on this freedom when it conflicts with other rights or public interests. For instance, practices that harm others or violate public safety, order, health, or morals can be restricted. According to the U.S. Supreme Court, such limitations must be narrowly tailored and serve a compelling government interest.

How does freedom of religion benefit society?

Freedom of religion fosters a diverse and pluralistic society, allowing individuals to live according to their beliefs and contributing to social harmony. It encourages tolerance and respect among different religious groups. Studies have shown that countries with greater religious freedoms often experience lower levels of civil conflict and higher levels of economic development, as reported by the Pew Research Center.

What role do international laws play in protecting freedom of religion?

International laws play a significant role in protecting freedom of religion globally. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 18) guarantees this right, as does the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Article 18). These treaties obligate signatory countries to respect and ensure the freedom of religion for all individuals within their jurisdiction, promoting a standard of religious liberty that transcends national boundaries.

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Discussion Comments


One of the areas that freedom of religion gets most consistently and interestingly challenged is in prison.

It is a unique environment where you must restrict certain freedoms while respecting certain rights. Religion fits awkwardly into this environment.

If you do just a little bit of research you will find dozens of instances where prisoners wanted to perform rituals, use substances, spread messages, and generally worship in a way that would be disruptive to the broader prison population. The question then becomes, when do rights end in the interest of safety?


Freedom of religion is a concept that many of us take for granted, but it remains as revolutionary today as when it was first put into practice.

One of the reasons that we don't appreciate it so much is that we live in a fairly tolerant society that has a clear distinction between church and state. That means that the beliefs and doctrines and others rarely impinge on our own wants and wishes. As a result, we are permissive of other people's religious beliefs because they don't affect us. In the theocratic states of the past, that was not the case and religions had to compete between each other more fiercely.


The freedom of religion that I desire so badly actually has more to do with freedom from religious extremist. I really don't mind the influence that light religious references can have in our daily lives, but when people start killing each other over the issues that fundamental religions have then I have to take a step back and wonder just what it is that we are doing here with our world. No one should act like that and it is detrimental to the entire human population for us to continue such irate behavior into the future.


There is the possibility of of zealots causing a very big headache for the rest of society and the political spectrum but I am a believer in the bell curve of our demographic. People of both ideologies exist in this country and how they perceive the nation's role in religion. The freedom of religion foundations that are rooted in our history are seen by some as wrong or perhaps give preference to a specific religion, often described as Christian.

There are the other side of the political spectrum that believe the exact opposite. Large factions of political movements believe that the words "In God We Trust" should ever have been put on the coins and currency of the nation. Do we have freedom to not practice religion or should one always be reminded, and carry in your pocket, the word of God.


It is scary to me just how in danger the basis for freedom of religion is in our nation today. For such an incredible and base right that our country of the United States was founded upon, the thought that it could be threatened disturbs many people and I think that they are justified in their concern.

When we have political movements come into our political realm that support the notion that God has delivered a divine right to them as a political power, there is an issue. While these people have the absolute right to do so, I can't but think how backward this is to the United States of America's constitution. We are exclusively guaranteed the freedom of religion and the separation of church and state as a founding principle of this great nation.

When people claim to have some divine right to rule or to make their political decisions, please be wary of their claims and realize that the law protects your from such discrimination.

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    • Freedom of religion refers to the constitutional right that allows people to choose whether to worship a religion and how to worship.
      By: oconnelll
      Freedom of religion refers to the constitutional right that allows people to choose whether to worship a religion and how to worship.
    • Hasidic man praying at the Kotel (Wailing Wall).
      By: Brian Jeffery Beggerly
      Hasidic man praying at the Kotel (Wailing Wall).
    • Freedom of Religion was important to the Founding Fathers and remains a key part of American society today.
      By: Michael Flippo
      Freedom of Religion was important to the Founding Fathers and remains a key part of American society today.