Sample Research Paper on Federalism and Religious Freedom


            Various debates have been carried out concerning the interaction between the church and its interpretation with the church. Religious freedom has been the topic of discussion because its interaction with federalism has somehow been volatile. Americans are a diverse population that subscribe to different religious faiths or organizations. Therefore, the concept of religious freedom is very significant to the American society. However, any similar debate in the American context has to be based on the First Amendment. The federal laws have established religious freedom for all US citizens, but federalism is a law that explains the relationship between the states and the federal government. In this regard, the constitution is the supreme law that defines this relationship and existence. Consequently, this concept of federalism has established an opportunity to formulate its own state laws. As such, religious freedom has been influenced in one way or the other. For example, debates about divorce, sex, and freedom of speech are quite different in various states (Hamburger, 2004). Specifically, some states have legalized same sex marriage whilst this is contrary to the conduct of many established religions. Therefore, the concept of federalism has failed to protect religious freedom in the United States.

Federalism does not support religious freedom

The First Amendment is a very important legal basis for religious freedom in the United States. The clause in this particular Amendment have been curbed their power to an extent that it has allowed a perceived culture, which considers religious conviction as an individual issue (Scarberry, 2009). As such, it has established a phenomenon where this perception is tolerated in the society rather than being celebrated. Here, the Amendment does not sufficiently address some issues related to religious freedom. For example, it does not clearly state the difference between religion and sex in issues revolving around marriage, termination of pregnancy, employment legislations, and public lodging facilities (Scarberry, 2009). Whereas these debates have contrasting opinions, it is vital for all American citizens because it involves their freedom. In this context, federalism has allowed about 12 states in the US to formalize same sex marriages and make it lawful (Scarberry, 2009). This clearly indicates a controversy about religious freedom. The founders of the ‘an established religion’ as explained in the Amendment were not clear about the conduct of a religion. On the contrary, they dwelled on its formation rather than their activities. Therefore, the law only recognizes a religion based on its formation rather than the ideal they articulate.

Secondly, there has been an attempt to replace the ‘free exercise clause’ in the First Amendment. This was being done with an aim to exempt any interested religious groups from any of the laws they deem as inconsistent with their faith. The only restriction to this exemption was that the request should not imply to sacrificing a fellow citizen. As a result, the Congress legislated the ‘Religious Freedom Restoration Act,’ which has been adopted by several states thereafter (Scarberry, 2009). In this regard, the legislation has reflected the power back to the government to evaluate and determine any legislation that affects the state interest. Here, religious organizations have no chance of complaining about any law because the government has the final verdict. On the other side, jurisprudence is not static and it should be flexible to ensure that it promotes and caters for the need of each group of people. In its application, the act has rendered the First Amendment, which recognizes and allows a varied religious expression as fundamental obsolete.

Federalism support religious freedom.

The center of the debate between federalism and religious freedom has been same sex marriage (Hamburger, 2004). Whereas the religious leader and their followers have disallowed these particular marriages, some states have legalized these marriages. Just in the similar way federal laws have allowed the citizens to rightfully choose their religious faiths, as it also granted the states a similar right to choose which pieces of legislations they want. In this perspective, the same sex marriage being legalized has nothing to do with religious liberty. Further, this legislation protects those who hold dissenting opinions about such marriages and protect them from being forcefully recruited (Labunski, 2006). Therefore, the law is correct to allow every citizen to choose what they feel is right. As such, federalism has promoted religious freedom.

Secondly, the reasons to oppose same sex marriage have not been strong enough to be rescinded. For example, people who oppose such marriages claim that there is no recreational continuity is such unions. However, such argument fails to attest the context of two couples that are infertile and cannot bear children just like in the other marriage, there is no continuity. On the contrary, religious groups and activist propagating this debate have failed to consider such a scenario. Similarly, a businessperson who fails to provide certain services because of religious beliefs is not compelled or forced by the federal laws. The legislation allows people to make their own choices. Therefore, on matters that are contrary to the beliefs of a religion, it is left to the decision of each individual.

Evaluation of the debate

Religious freedom is an important aspect to be considered in law with clear restrictions. The First Amendment is elaborate about articulating the establishment of a religion rather than restricting specific actions that are contrary to the beliefs. Federalism should have a common legislation about religious freedom and this should not be left as a preserve of individual states. Contrary actions that are not allowed in religion have been permitted by law. This has resulted in various debates about religious freedom. Federalism has failed to protect religious freedom because it has allowed individual legislations by the states. This is a loophole because once a single state drafts its unique law, it becomes a representative sample and influence to the others. For example, in the case of same sex marriage can influence other people into adopting the same ideals. Here, the initial context in which religious beliefs were established will be derailed in the future. As such, freedom of religion will reach a level where it has weird actions, whether good or bad because it is not protected. Therefore, federalism would only allow legislation of laws that are consistent with common beliefs among the diverse religions and which demonstrate good morals for protecting humanity.


The concept of federalism has developed a void in the American legislations that does not protect religious freedom. Every state has been allowed to legislate its own laws about religion, which has resulted into dissent opinions about religious beliefs. Religious view this religious freedom as a bottleneck in articulating fundamental morals enshrined in the religion. Therefore, if religious freedom is not protected by federal legislation, then in future the American society will not have a religion that the founders intend to achieve. This can only be regulated by outlawing any actions that are perceived as contrary to the beliefs and spirit of religious liberty.  However, those who support federalism have argued that it gives each individual an opportunity to choose what they want. Here, religious freedom includes choosing what befits the believers.







Hamburger, P. (2004). Separation of Church and State. London: Harvard University Press.

Labunski, R. E. (2006). James Madison and the struggle for the Bill of Rights. London: Oxford          University Press

Scarberry, M. S. (2009). John Leland and James Madison: Religious influence on the             Ratification of the Constitution and on the Proposal of the Bill of Rights. Penn State Law        Review 113 (3), 733–800.