What Are the Free Exercise Clause and the Establishment Clause of the 1st Amendment, and How Do They Differ From Each Other?
Historically, it meant prohibiting state-sponsored churches, such as the Church of England.
If the government goes too far in protecting one, it risks violating the other. For example, if the government refuses to provide certain services (i.e., fire and police protection) to churches, that might violate the free exercise clause. If the government provides too many services to churches (perhaps extra security for a church event), it risks violating the establishment clause. If schools prohibit all student prayer on school property, they may violate the free exercise clause. But if they allow student led prayers during school hours, they may violate the establishment clause.
The purpose of the Establishment Clause, rather, is as a structural restraint on governmental power. Because of its structural character, the task of the Establishment Clause is to limit government from legislating or otherwise acting on any matter respecting an establishment of religion.
Hobbie v. Unemployment Appeals Comm’n, 480 U.S. 136, 144–45 (1987).
Tax Comm’n, 397 U.S. at 669.
Committee for Pub. Educ. & Religious Liberty v. Nyquist, 413 U.S. 756, 788–89 (1973)