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.
People often view the first part of this amendment as separate from the rest, but this like every other document has a context. If you cut it into small pieces and quote it out of context you can get the whole meaning wrong. It isn’t
” Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion”. A comma falls at the end of the statement which means in order to fully understand it’s meaning we have to keep on reading. The statement goes on to say that the government can not forbid the free exercise of religion.
While the government is forbidden to say that you must be one religion or another, they can not legally do some of the things they have been doing. Like most recently they told Catholic Priest that are in the military that if they gave communion to anyone during the government shut down that they would go to jail. Not only was this a very petty move designed to insult conservatives, but as long as the priest are not getting paid if they volunteer to do their religious duty this is prohibiting the free exercise religion which is unconstitutional.
It doesn’t even end there, after “or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” is a semicolon which means that the rest of the statement is interdependent on the rest. We are to interpret ” 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.” in the same way we interpret the first part.
What do you suppose would happen if we told the press that they could only write about and discuss the news in the privacy of their own homes with the doors shut? They would go bonkers, and rightfully so. How about only being allowed to petition the government in the privacy of our own homes? How would we even assemble if we had to shut our doors, and do it in private?
If the rest of the statement can not be interpreted as being confined behind a lock door, trying to confine religion behind a locked door is unconstitutional.