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Freedoms Of Conscience, Thought, And Belief—Religious Freedom

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Chapter Summary

The Court has identified the individual's freedom of conscience as the central liberty that unifies the various Clauses in the First Amendment. The freedom of thought and speech is the matrix, the indispensable condition, of nearly every other form of freedom. Thus, freedom of conscience and thought, which includes freedom of religious belief, is "basic in a society of free men". Compelled disclosure of political beliefs, in itself, can seriously infringe on the rights guaranteed by the First Amendment. The Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, which has been made applicable to the states by incorporation into the Fourteenth Amendment, provides that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. The free exercise of religion means, first and foremost, the right to believe and profess whatever religious doctrine one desires. The freedom to hold religious beliefs and opinions is absolute.

Keywords: compelled disclosure; Conscience; Free Exercise Clause; Freedom; freedom of belief; freedom of conscience; freedom of thought; Freedoms; religious freedom

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