Religion and Public Space


Religion and public space are quite different than acting on one’s bias of what one believes to be true when those actions are in the public domain. In a diverse nation like the United States, it is important to defend that diversity in order for each group to sense belonging to society rather than becoming the exception to the society in which they live. Opening the door to the other does not in any way diminish that which you believe to be true. The poem by Emma Lazarus enshrined on the base of the Statue of Liberty best describes the openness that existed prior to the recent spate of xenophobia and evangelical triumphalism that is testing the very core of the American Dread. Consider the lines below:

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

The New Colossus by Emma Lasarus

Recent Supreme Court decisions have brought to the forefront the complex and contentious issue of balancing religious freedom with the principles of non-discrimination and equal treatment in public accommodation. These decisions have sparked debates and raised concerns about the potential conflation of religion and the free exercise of bigoted behavior. This essay seeks to delve deeper into the intricacies surrounding the relationship between religion, the free exercise of faith, and the boundaries of public accommodation. It aims to explore the challenges faced in upholding civil rights in a diverse society while ensuring the protection of religious freedom.

The Separation of Religion and Public Space

The establishment clause in the Constitution’s First Amendment serves as a safeguard against the establishment of a state-sanctioned religion and protects the separation of church and state. This principle does not grant individuals the right to impose their religious beliefs on others or to discriminate against those who hold different beliefs. Rather, it establishes a framework that allows individuals to freely practice their faith without interference from the state and safeguards against the imposition of a particular religious ideology on the broader society.

The Free Exercise of Religion: Religion and Public Space

The free exercise clause of the First Amendment guarantees individuals the freedom to believe and practice their religion without governmental interference. It is a fundamental right that has been enshrined in the fabric of American society. The protection of religious freedom ensures that individuals have the autonomy to follow their deeply held convictions, engage in religious rituals, and participate in religious communities.

Public Accommodation and Non-Discrimination:

In the realm of public accommodation, businesses that offer goods or services to the public are generally required to provide equal access to all individuals, regardless of their race, religion, gender, or sexual orientation. This principle is firmly rooted in the ideals of equality and non-discrimination. The Civil Rights Act and subsequent legislation were enacted to combat systemic discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex, or national origin. These laws aim to create an inclusive society where all individuals can participate fully and equally in public life.

Religion and Public Space: Balancing Religious Freedom and Human Rights

The tension between religious freedom and civil rights arises when individuals or business owners assert that providing certain services to individuals whose beliefs or behaviors, they consider contrary to their religious convictions infringes upon their freedom of religion. It is crucial to navigate this delicate balance, ensuring that religious freedom is respected while safeguarding the rights and dignity of all individuals.

While religious freedom is a cherished right, it is not an absolute license to discriminate. The exercise of religious freedom must be scrutinized when it comes into conflict with the principles of non-discrimination and equal treatment. Balancing these competing interests requires a nuanced approach that respects individual beliefs but also acknowledges the societal imperative of protecting vulnerable communities from discrimination.

Case Law and Implications: Religion and Public Space

Recent Supreme Court decisions have grappled with the complexities inherent in reconciling religious freedom and non-discrimination. These decisions have acknowledged the importance of respecting sincerely held religious beliefs but have also emphasized the need to safeguard the rights of marginalized communities. The Court has sought to strike a balance that upholds civil rights while respecting the religious convictions of individuals.

The implications of these decisions are far-reaching. They shape the contours of religious freedom and public accommodation, setting precedents that influence societal norms and expectations. It is crucial to critically examine these decisions, assessing their impact on marginalized communities and evaluating whether they strike an appropriate balance between religious freedom and civil rights.

Embracing Diversity and Inclusion: Religion and Public Space

In a pluralistic society like the United States, embracing diversity and fostering inclusion are paramount. True inclusivity requires recognizing the equal worth of every person and ensuring that public accommodations are not denied based on immutable characteristics or protected beliefs. Upholding civil rights laws promotes social cohesion, fosters mutual respect, and reinforces the principle that no one should be subjected to discrimination.

By upholding civil rights in the context of public accommodation, we create an environment where individuals from diverse backgrounds can participate fully in public life and access the goods and services available to all members of society. Embracing diversity also means acknowledging that different religious beliefs and practices coexist in a pluralistic society. Respecting these differences and striking a balance between religious freedom and civil rights is essential to fostering a harmonious and inclusive society.


The issue of reconciling religious freedom with the principles of non-discrimination and equal treatment in public accommodation is a complex and multifaceted one. While individuals have the right to hold their religious beliefs, it is imperative that this right is not used as a shield to perpetuate discrimination or deny equal treatment to others. Upholding civil rights laws and promoting inclusivity are crucial to creating a society that respects the diversity of beliefs and practices while ensuring fairness and justice for all. It is through this delicate balance that we can truly honor both religious freedom and the principles of equality upon which our nation was founded.

By Politics-as-Usual

Roger is a retired Professor of language and literacy. Over the past 15 years since his retirement, Roger has kept busy with reading, writing, and creating landscape photographs. In this time of National crisis, as Fascist ideas and policies are being introduced to the American people and ignored by the Mainstream Press, he decided to stand up and be counted as a Progressive American with some ideas that should be shared with as many people who care to read and/or participate in discusssions of these issues. He doesn't ask anyone to agree with his point of view, but if entering the conversation he demands civility. No conspiracy theories, no wild accusations, no threats, no disrespect will be tolerated. Roger monitors all comments and email communication. That is the only rule for entering the conversation. One may persuade, argue for a different point of view, or toss out something that has not been discussed so long as the tone remains part of a civil discussion. Only then can we find common ground and meaningful democratic change.

2 thoughts on “Religion and Public Space: Defending Rights in Diversity”
  1. […] Mark Johnson and Bronze Age Mythology briefly explores Speaker Johnson’s extreme religious vie…The picture it paints suggests an overlap of extreme views. Views that do not reflect the views of the American people at large. They also may be in violation of the Establishment Clause in the 1st Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. That clause prohibits the entanglement of church and state. It clearly suggests that American citizens have the right to worship as they please including not to worship at all. When politicians bring their religious beliefs to legislation, I believe the Establishment Clause is violated. It makes one religious view stand firmly above all other possible views. […]

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