Freedom of religion is a principle that supports the freedom of an individual or community, in public or private, to manifest religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship, and observance. This concept is generally recognized also to include the freedom to change a religion, leave a religion, or not to follow any religion. Freedom of religion is considered by many nations to be a fundamental human right.
In the United States, freedom of religion is a constitutionally guaranteed right provided in the religion clauses of the First Amendment. Freedom of religion is also closely associated with the separation of church and state, a concept advocated by Thomas Jefferson.
Thomas Jefferson, Founding Father and 3rd President of the United States
Thomas Jefferson, third President of the United States, who advocated for separation of church and states.
Controversy continues within the U.S. between those who wish to restrict government involvement with religious institutions and remove religious references from government institutions and property, and those who wish to loosen such prohibitions. Advocates for stronger separation of church and state emphasize the plurality of faiths and non-faiths in the country, and what they see as the broad guarantees of the Constitution. Their opponents emphasize what they see as the largely Christian heritage and history of the nation (often citing the references to "Nature's God" and the "Creator" of men in the Declaration of Independence. )
The United States formally considers religious freedom in its foreign relations. The International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 established the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, which investigates the records of over 200 other nations with respect to religious freedom, and makes recommendations to submit nations with egregious records to ongoing scrutiny and possible economic sanctions. Many human rights organizations have urged the United States to be even more vigorous in imposing sanctions on countries that do not permit or tolerate religious freedom.