Government » American Civil Liberties and Rights » Securing Basic Freedoms

Summary and Main Ideas

Summary of Securing Basic Freedoms

Practice Questions

  1. Explain the difference between the establishment clause and the free exercise clause, and explain how these two clauses work together to guarantee religious freedoms.
  2. Explain the difference between the collective rights and individual rights views of the Second Amendment. Which of these views did the Supreme Court’s decision in District of Columbia v. Heller reflect?

Sample Answer:

The two clauses together protect religious liberty but from opposite directions. The establishment clause prevents governments from having an official religion (thus giving all religions a chance to flourish), while the free exercise clause clearly empowers individuals to practice as they wish.


blue law: a law originally created to uphold a religious or moral standard, such as a prohibition against selling alcohol on Sundays

common-law right: a right of the people rooted in legal tradition and past court rulings, rather than the Constitution

conscientious objector: a person who claims the right to refuse to perform military service on the grounds of freedom of thought, conscience, or religion

establishment clause: the provision of the First Amendment that prohibits the government from endorsing a state-sponsored religion; interpreted as preventing government from favoring some religious beliefs over others or religion over non-religion

exclusionary rule: a requirement, from Supreme Court case Mapp v. Ohio, that evidence obtained as a result of an illegal search or seizure cannot be used to try someone for a crime

free exercise clause: the provision of the First Amendment that prohibits the government from regulating religious beliefs and practices

obscenity: acts or statements that are extremely offensive by contemporary standards

prior restraint: a government action that stops someone from doing something before they are able to do it (e.g., forbidding someone to publish a book he or she plans to release)

probable cause: legal standard for determining whether a search or seizure is constitutional or a crime has been committed; a lower threshold than the standard of proof needed at a criminal trial

search warrant: a legal document, signed by a judge, allowing police to search and/or seize persons or property

Sherbert test: a standard for deciding whether a law violates the free exercise clause; a law will be struck down unless there is a “compelling governmental interest” at stake and it accomplishes its goal by the “least restrictive means” possible

symbolic speech: a form of expression that does not use writing or speech but nonetheless communicates an idea (e.g., wearing an article of clothing to show solidarity with a group)

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