The First Amendment is categorical and concise on religion and the state: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. Nevertheless, these few words have caused much confusion and controversy for successive generations. The debate over religious freedom has often come to the forefront during American history. Since colonial times, Americans have debated how to interpret and apply the First Amendment. Through biographical histories of individuals involved in the freedom of religion debates, readers will discover how individuals' thoughts, beliefs, and actions affected how the religion clauses are viewed today and throughout American history. Topics such as prayer in schools, religious symbols, exemption from military duty, and the pledge of allegience are addressed. Individuals such as Anne Hutchinson, Jerry Falwell, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Joseph Franklin Rutherford, and Roger Williams are included. An introductory essay, an appendix of shorter entries on additional figures, and a bibliography are also included.
The Shapers of the Great American Debates series takes a biographical approach to history, following the premise that people make history in the circumstances in which they find themselves. Each volume in this series examines the lives and experiences of the individuals involved in a particular debate through major and minor biographies.