ERIC Number: EJ704142
Record Type: Journal
Publication Date: 2004
Reference Count: N/A
Putting Beliefs on Trial: Laws of Cultural Orthodoxy and Dissent
Landman, James H.
Social Education, v68 n4 p275 May-Jun 2004
Images of heretics burning at the stake or of traitors being drawn, hanged, and quartered for disloyalty to the king seem well removed from twenty-first century America. Yet the laws that defined these offenses--which included heresy and blasphemy, sedition and treason--were at the heart of some of the most significant debates defining the shape of the United States Constitution. To this day, they influence the freedom to follow the religion of choice or to question public policies or the decisions of lawmakers. Although the United States now comprises a vast array of cultural influences, in its early years it was defined primarily in relation to England and its experience as an English colony. English legal traditions provided the material from which our constitutional structure was fashioned. The English legal inheritance included a substantial body of law that attempted to regulate and enforce cultural standards of a religious or political character. The framers of the Constitution discarded or altered some of this material, but they also retained some of it completely. The result has been a recurring tension between the right of the individual to freedom of religious and political belief and attempts by the government to restrict the influence of unorthodox religious and political beliefs. This article explores the history of English laws defining religious and political "orthodoxy"--adherence to cultural standards or norms--and the influence these laws had on the United States Constitution. Finally, it discusses the continuing force of this legal legacy in today's United States. (Contains 5 notes.)
Descriptors: Constitutional Law, History, Foreign Countries, Laws, Political Influences, Court Litigation, Freedom of Speech, State Church Separation, Freedom, Religion, Dissent
National Science Teachers Association, 1840 Wilson Boulevard, Arlington, VA 22201-3000. Web site: http://www.nsta.org.
Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Descriptive
Education Level: N/A
Authoring Institution: N/A
Identifiers - Location: United Kingdom (England); United States
Identifiers - Laws, Policies, & Programs: Common Law; Establishment Clause; First Amendment; United States Constitution