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The First Amendment

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The first amendment states: "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."

The first amendment guarantees freedom of or from religion. When the Constitutional Convention was held in 1778, Thomas Jefferson and the rest of the founders "decided that there would be no religious test, oath or other requirement for any federal elected office, allowed Quakers and others to affirm (rather than swear) their oaths of office, and refrained from recognizing the religion of Christianity, or one of its denominations, as an established, state church."* Jefferson felt that freedom of religion played an important role in guaranteeing individual rights. James Madison felt that, "Congress should not establish a religion, and enforce the legal observation of it by law, nor compel men to worship God in any Manner contrary to their conscience."*

David Marsh, a prisoner within the Michigan Department of Corrections, converted to the Wiccan religion. He issued a lawsuit against his prison warden because they had prevented him from using incense during his religious rituals. He claimed, "that the defendants have deprived him of his First Amendment right to freely exercise his religion and his Fourteenth Amendment right to equal protection of the laws." Although Marsh was a prisoner, he still retains the right to freely practice religion. It was concluded that incense are not always necessary in practicing the Wiccan religion, however, the court found that Marsh genuinely believed that the use of incense was important in his practices. In the Wiccan religion, incense can also be used for cleansing and healing. The court decided that the ban of incense in Marsh's rituals was unreasonable and he now can burn incense on eight Holy days per year with supervision in the prison chapel. This court decision not only concerned the First Amendment but it also showed the level of importance of it. In this particular case, the First Amendment even was viewed as important although it concerned the rights of a prisoner.

Another court decision that helped shape the First Amendment was McCollum vs. Board Of Education. In 1948, an atheist mother filed a complaint towards religious classes held in her child's



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