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Beyond Religion: The First Amendment and Ideological Groups

By James Spencer for TOWNHALL

People on both sides of the political sphere claim that the First Amendment — which guarantees freedoms concerning religion, expression, assembly, and the right to petition — is being taken away or misappropriated somehow. Yet, as we worry ourselves about the relationship between the state and religion, my concern is that we are allowing the state to offer preferential treatment to ideological groups with religious-like characteristics. Such an allowance will likely lead to the same sort of problems our nation’s founders sought to avoid with the First Amendment.

The First Amendment is both crucial and insufficient because it does not address the state “establishment” beyond religion, despite the rise of ideological groups that share many of the dynamics and functions of religion. As important as the First Amendment is, it only addresses the exercise of governmental influence in and through formal “religions” (e.g., Christianity). The goal here is not to reinterpret or even revise the First Amendment, but to highlight its limitations and to point to a dynamic between the state and ideological groups that may well have similar consequences to state establishment of religion. At this point, ideological groups whose beliefs and practices distinguish between sacred and profane while forming a community (however loose) with a specific, relatively inflexible, view of morality may be empowered by the state to force that understanding of morality on those outside the ideological group — just as they fear religion would.

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