Freedom of religion includes freedom from religion

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It is frequently claimed that freedom of religion does not include or imply freedom from religion – in other words, that the freedom to choose the nature of one's religious activity does not include the right not to engage in such activity at all.

In general, such claims are contrary to the ideals of a free society. If one is obliged to choose a religion rather than being free to have no religion, this implies several things:

  • That the law must somehow distinguish between religion and non-religion – otherwise, individuals could choose "atheism" as their religion, despite the contradiction in terms)
  • That individuals must choose from among a selection of available moral codes, and are not permitted to publicly follow their own conscience where it comes into conflict with their chosen code (this is especially problematic given how ambiguously the morals of many religions are spelled out, leaving it largely to authority within each religion to dictate moral decisions – a fundamentally authoritarian approach to morality)
  • That a religious view trumps a rational view, whenever there is a conflict, thus making it impossible to criticize any religion from a purely rational viewpoint

As applies to the United States specifically, these claims are generally baseless, not being supported by examination of Constitutional law or the words and actions of the US founding fathers.