Many parents "force" their children to receive religious education. Does the children's U.S. First Amendment right to freedom of religion allow them to get the police to stop their parents from doing this sort of thing? Or do First Amendment rights not apply to minors?

  • Comments archived in chat.
    – Pat W.
    Commented Dec 20, 2020 at 12:48
  • OP here. Honestly, surprised this question wasn't closed for showing very poor research effort on my part.
    – Smithey
    Commented Dec 31, 2020 at 17:30
  • @Smithey the question you might really want answered is whether Amendment 1 protects a parental right to have a state not interfere with them forcing religious education on a child. Commented Jun 24, 2022 at 18:40

1 Answer 1


It's less that the first amendment does not apply to minors and more that the first amendment does not apply to the parents' conduct. The first amendment to the U.S. constitution reads (emphasis added):

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Thus the first amendment applies to the conduct of the federal government (and has its reach extended to state governments through Cantwell v. Connecticut, 310 U.S. 296 (1940)). The parents' conduct, while perhaps objectionable morally, does not violate the children's rights under the first amendment, as they are neither the state nor the federal government.

  • 20
    There may be legal remedies if the parent's conduct rises to the point of abusive OR if the child is sufficiently old enough, could apply for legal emancipation. In general these are first amendment neutral (it's not that the end goal of the abuse is making you go to church/sunday school by blatant methods of child abuse in general that's illegal). Physically putting a child in a car is not in and of itself child abuse (otherwise we should line up CPS agents at every child friendly venue in the country and arrest parents whose children are throwing fits cause they don't want to leave).
    – hszmv
    Commented Dec 17, 2020 at 19:48
  • 3
    That's true, there may indeed be other ways which the parents' conduct could be legally objectionable (though it's difficult if not impossible to say without further details). I just wanted to answer the more narrow question posed on the applicability of the first amendment.
    – Alex C
    Commented Dec 17, 2020 at 20:47
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    Note that this confusion (about who exactly the First Amendment restricts the conduct of) seems to be rather common among Americans. I regularly see people trying to argue that the First Amendment should protect them from being censored or banned in private forums online. Commented Dec 18, 2020 at 0:07
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    @AustinHemmelgarn - They generally argue that it should, as you correctly said, not that it does. Some time back, people argued that the First Amendment should apply to states and municipal corporations (i.e. cities). It did not previously, but then it did.
    – Obie 2.0
    Commented Dec 18, 2020 at 1:53
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    @AustinHemmelgarn that's because people who "know their rights" don't actually know their rights.
    – RonJohn
    Commented Dec 18, 2020 at 9:49

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