Free to Believe!

This lesson introduces freedom of religion to students and asks them to consider how they might respond in an authentic situation related to religious freedom.
Grade Level


Students will:

  • Understand freedom of religion.
  • Examine their own actions when someone believes differently than they do.
  • Identify ways that we can be more accepting of different belief systems.
Essential Questions
  • What is freedom of religion?
  • In what way does freedom of religion help to promote respect for differences in our country?
  • What challenges come along with freedom of religion? 
  • How do I feel when I see someone practicing a religious tradition that is different from mine or my family’s?
  • Index cards with the names of different religions and beliefs written on them.
  • Paper and art materials
  • Handout: Anika and the Head Scarf

In this lesson, students will be introduced to a scenario that reflects religious differences and relates to freedom of religion. They will explore how those situations may have been handled and write a classroom rule about respecting everyone’s beliefs. 



The most basic liberties guaranteed in the United States are outlined in the 45 words of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. The Amendment includes the following words: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Religious liberty includes the right to freely practice any religion or no religion without government coercion or control. Within the First Amendment, there are two clauses related to religion. The Establishment Clause prohibits the government from creating an official or established church. The Free Exercise Clause prohibits the government from interfering with the practices of any religion except in the “compelling interest” of the greater society. For example, you can’t be married to two people at the same time in the United States, even if your religion allows it.

Understanding the religious rights of others is a key element of tolerance. The United States is a religiously diverse nation, with hundreds of different religions and a rapidly growing segment of the population that does not believe in any religion at all. That diversity extends to many of the nation’s classrooms, where students with different belief systems are expected to learn side by side while respecting each other’s beliefs. 



belief [ bih-leef ] (noun) Something that is believed, like an opinion.

freedom [ free-duh m ] (noun) Personal liberty.

diversity  [ dih-vur-si-tee ] (noun) Being different.

religion [ ri-lij-uhn ] (noun) A set of beliefs about why we are here on Earth, our purpose in life, what happens after we die, what is moral, and what is sacred.

right [ rahyt ] (noun) Something that we deserve to get by law or because it is the correct thing to do.



 1. Write the word “right” on the board and ask students what they think it means when they have the right to do something. Explain that a right is a freedom that you have in a particular place or situation.

Ask students to complete the following sentences in a journal or orally with a partner:

In our class, I have the right to____________________________________

In my family, I have the right to _____________________________________.

In this country, I have the right to ___________________________________.

2. Have students share written answers with a partner

3. Ask students how they know what their rights are in class, with their family or in this country. Explain that a very important document called the U.S. Constitution tells our government what rights it must allow our citizens and what limits it has with regard to those rights. One of those rights applies to freedom of religion. Direct student partners to guess what they think freedom of religion means. List answers and ask students to decide what they think is the best answer. Guide students to understand that freedom of religion has two parts. One part says that our government can’t make one religion the official religion of our country. The other part says that our government can’t interfere with anyone’s religious beliefs or with their right not to practice a religion. Some countries have an official state church or religion. Write the names of different religious groups as well as the unaffiliated group on index cards. Ask student volunteers to choose an index card and share a sentence about that religion that relates to the religious freedoms of those who follow it. Examples include:

  • Government cannot stop Christians from going to church.
  • Government cannot stop Jews from believing in one God.
  • Government cannot stop Muslims from praying five times each day.
  • Government cannot stop Buddhists from praying in Sanskrit.
  • Government cannot make Sikhs cut their hair.
  • Government cannot force a nonbeliever to believe.

4. Read the following story to students.

Anika was excited for the first day of school! She put on her new purple dress. She also put on the matching hijab (head scarf) that her mother bought her. This would be the first year Anika would wear a hijab like a grown-up Muslim woman. She could not wait to meet new friends at her new school! She walked into class and heard girls laughing. One of them pointed to her head scarf. Another girl pretended to wear a tissue on her head. One of the girls told Anika she should take off her head scarf. Anika asked her teacher if she had to take it off. Her teacher said …

5. Ask students to complete the story and answer the questions on the handout. The last question can be answered with a partner. (Note: To assist with answering the questions, review American Civil Liberties Union, Discrimination Against Muslim Women.)

 6. Ask students to share their story endings. Which ending(s) do students think would be most likely to happen? Justify answers.

7. Discuss the rest of the answers together.

8. Finally, list all of the classroom rules from No. 6 of the handout on flip chart paper and ask students to check off the ones they will agree to follow. Hang the classroom rules in a place where everyone can see them. 



Religions in My Neighborhood: Teaching Curiosity and Respect about Religious Differences”

A curricula guide for grades K-4 (published in September 2013). Its primary purpose is to help and inspire educators and their students to explore religious and cultural differences, and to develop respect for the diversity they encounter in their communities. The standards-based guide explores identity, beliefs, caring for one’s community, rituals, traditions, sacred spaces and learning about religious differences.

A Guide to Religious Liberty in Public Schools
“Finding Common Ground” by Charles C. Haynes and Oliver Thomas is a First Amendment guide to religion and public education published by the First Amendment Center.


Extension Activity

Have students create an audio or video recording called “Religious Freedom Is” with examples of what the phrase means to them and how their classmates can show acceptance and tolerance for each other’s religious beliefs.


Activities and embedded assessments address the following standards using the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts: CCSS: W.4, SL.1, SL.2, L.1, L.2

Teaching Tolerance collage of images

Welcome to Learning for Justice—Formerly Teaching Tolerance!

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