Online College Courses for Credit

3 Tutorials that teach Religious & Political Issues
Take your pick:
Religious & Political Issues

Religious & Political Issues

Author: David Dillard-Wright

Understand that conflict can arise between church and state in the U.S. and identify specific historical examples.

See More

Religious and Political Issues

Video Transcription

Download PDF

[THEME MUSIC] Welcome to this tutorial on political and religious issues. We're going to be taking a look at the occasions when a religious belief or religious practice conflicts with the laws of a country. We're just going to take a look at three examples from the United States Supreme Court, cases where religious belief or religious practice conflicts with the law of the country.

This first one, this first case was about the use of peyote in Native American religious practices. The case had to do with the Oregon Employment Office. It was a case of someone who was dismissed from their job for peyote. And the question was whether or not they could claim unemployment benefits. The person was saying this is discriminatory.

The Supreme Court found that the use of peyote by Native American groups was not a protected religious activity, and that the person could lose their benefits as a result of peyote use.

Another case, this is the case that had to do with the abolition of polygamy in the Church of Latter-Day Saints, otherwise known as the Mormons. This is in the late 19th century. This is not to be confused with the Fundamentalist Latter-Day Saints that are still practicing polygamy in the American West.

The case had to do with whether or not state prohibitions against bigamy, the practice of having more than one wife, if this was discriminatory. The Supreme Court found that the states are within their rights to ban polygamy. The mainstream Mormon Church has not practiced polygamy since then.

There is still the fundamentalist church that is operating more or less underground that does still practice polygamy. We should be careful to distinguish Warren Jeffs and the fundamentalist church from the mainstream Mormon Church, though.

The third case here had to do with religious symbols that are placed on public property. This happened in Pennsylvania, the Allegheny County courthouse that was displaying several religious symbols.

I believe it was a menorah as well as a nativity scene that was being displayed on the courthouse. The county felt that this was appropriate because they weren't establishing any one religion. It was sort of a multicultural display. But they were sued by the a ACLU, the Civil Liberties Union.

It went all the way to the Supreme Court, and the Supreme Court found this was an inappropriate establishment of religion because it was advocating religious belief over non-belief. And they found this ran afoul of the First Amendment provisions that Congress should not establish any religion.

So in two of these cases the court was ruling that the authority of government can be used to restrict religious practices. And in the third, the court was upholding the separation of church and state. You could look up many other examples on your own of examples where religion and law come into conflict and the ways that the courts go about trying to resolve this conflict.

Thanks for watching this tutorial on political and religious issues. We said that sometimes religious belief conflicts with the law. And we looked at three Supreme Court cases that decided about the conflict between religion and secular authority.

We discussed cases that ruled concerning Native American peyote use, the practice of polygamy by the Mormon Church, and the use of religious symbols on public property. So oftentimes these matters have to be decided by the court when a religious belief or a religious practice runs afoul of the law.