Freedom of Religion: Study Questions


Suggested Study Questions and Activities

Teachers: The following are questions and activities that can be given to your students after they read the materials in each section. The questions are meant to be asked as a review exercise, although some encourage critical thinking as well. The activities can be presented as classroom exercises or as individual homework assignments. Unlike the questions, they tend to require additional research. Some call for students to create mock trials or debates that would engage the entire class. Both the questions and the activities are formatted so that they might be used directly by students, although you may rewrite them as you feel necessary.

Essential Principles


What were the most important developments for freedom of religion in Europe? How did the essential elements of religious freedom develop? Is formal separation of religion and state necessary to religious freedom or is religious freedom possible where a state religion is recognized?


Many of the countries selected for this study guide have significant or majority Muslim populations (France, Indonesia, Malaysia, Morocco, Netherlands, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Turkey). They offer a variety of models for the relationship between Islam and the state. Is there a correlation of religious freedom and Freedom House’s categorization of Free, Partly Free, and Free Countries? In which countries are there a state religion? Is Sharia practiced? Does it have formal sanction as state law? How are Muslims and non-Muslims treated under Sharia? Do non-Muslims have freedom of religion or are they discriminated against? What do the comparisons tell you about the practice of freedom of religion in Muslim countries?

United States


The United States has adherents of just about every known religion living within its borders. Has it protected the rights of all? If so, how has this been accomplished? Are there ever conflicts between religious groups in the United States? What circumstances have led to religious friction?

How did the United States change to reflect its constitutional premise of separation of church and state and unhindered freedom of belief? What branch of government had more to do with expanding religious freedom?

What periods in US history have seen religious discrimination? What religions have experienced discrimination? How? Review current events in the US (e.g. regarding the presidential election campaign, Supreme Court cases, issues that involve religious liberty). Has there been expression of bigotry towards religious groups? How does it compare to previous expressions and practices in the US?


Using the Resource links, review some of the Supreme Court decisions discussed in the Country Study. What questions concerning religious freedom does the country face today? Find majority and dissenting decisions in these cases as well as an article discussing one recent Supreme Court case regarding the establishment of religion (e.g. the Texas monument case). Take a position in the case (majority/dissenting).  Defend your position.

To address one of the most current cases, assign students to read Linda Greenhouse’s OpEd article in the The New York Times “Hobby Lobby in Context” (July 9, 2014). What issues were raised in this case and other cases related to the Affordable Care Act? What other cases does Linda Greenhouse cite? How is the Supreme Court ruling in such cases and what are the majority’s reasons? Is the Supreme Court “changing direction” to accommodate religious practices? How do these cases differ from earlier cases?



In Nigeria’s history, was there religious freedom before independence? After independence? How does the adoption of Sharia law in 12 of 36 states in Nigeria affect freedom of religion? Does the application of Sharia, in civil or criminal cases, necessarily contradict the principles of freedom of religion? What recourses are there to a Sharia court ruling? Is the exclusion of Sharia from official courts itself a violation of religious freedom, as claimed by some Muslim leaders in Nigeria?


Compare the section on Nigeria with the country study of Saudi Arabia (chapter 8, "Rule of Law"). Discuss what are the consequences of establishing religious law as the state's law? Review the History and US sections. What other current or historical examples can students find to illustrate these dangers?

Review articles relating to the rise of fundamentalist movements Boko Haram and Ansaru. Discuss the threat to religious freedom and to general freedoms posed by such extremism. Have students research the response of the Nigerian government to these religious extremist movements and read Nicolas Kristof’s Op-ed article “What Is So Scary about Smart Girls?” in the The New York Times. Discuss what approaches are likely to be effective in combatting Boko Haram?



How was religious freedom observed before and after the 1954 Geneva Agreement that divided the country into South and North Vietnam? What was the influence of China’s imperial control on religious freedom? Of Vietnam’s dynastic emperors? Of French colonial administration? How does the Vietnamese government today justify the controls it imposes on religion? How successful has it been in manipulating religion to serve the state? What independent religious groups are there in Vietnam? Can they practice their religion freely?


Compare Nigeria and Vietnam Country Studies. Are there any similarities between Vietnam's state-imposed religious practices and the newly adopted Sharia statutes in Nigeria's northern, mostly Muslim states? What are the differences? How are Vietnam’s practices similar to other communist countries? Include research from the Resource section and the internet.

The Vietnamese government proposed a new law on religion in 2015. Will this improve religious freedom in Vietnam? Look at the different links in Resources to see how this law is being considered by human rights organizations, the Economist, and The New York Times.