The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution forbids laws establishing religion or impeding the free exercise of religion. But that doesn’t mean governments in the U.S. – whether federal, state or local – do not place any restrictions on religious activity.
Indeed, according to a recent Pew Research Center study – the sixth annual report in a series – the U.S. has moderate levels of both restrictions on religion and social hostilities toward religious groups, ranking somewhere in the middle range of the nearly 200 countries analyzed in the report.
Many government restrictions in the United States that were taken into account in our analysis originated with state or local governments and were later reversed by courts or by federal agencies.
For example, there were a number of U.S. cases involving local governments denying permission to a religious group to build or expand a house of worship on the basis of land use or zoning laws, only to have those decisions later reversed. In one case, a town in Southern California refused permission to an Islamic center to build a new mosque on its property. A judge later declared the action a violation of federal law. Nevertheless, Pew Research still counts this as an instance of a religious restriction because the decision was implemented before being overturned.