The reality is that "religious freedom" in the Constitution's Bill of Rights probably doesn't mean what religionists think, from the perspective of "originalism"
I do write about the "establishment clause" and the separation of church and state as outlined in the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States from time to time, but it's hardly a focus of a blog on urbanism.
I have written about churches in the context of urbanism ("Churches, community, religion and change," original piece, 2012). And I am a fan of religious architecture and design, especially stained glass.
Now here in Salt Lake, I am fascinated about how the LDS Church builds churches to anchor neighborhoods, and they are sited to encourage walking to church (I'm not sure many people do), so there is an abundance of churches within neighborhoods. But like urban churches elsewhere, they are running into having "too many churches" as the city becomes more religiously diverse.
An article in the Salt Lake Deseret News, "What does ‘a wall of separation between Church and State’ mean exactly?," made me think about it anew, based on my experiences in DC, and learning about the early history of the region.
My interpretation of this section of the First Amendment is that it concerned the forced payment by American households to financially support the Church of England, the "official religion" of Maryland and other Southern colonies and Congregationalism in New England. Some colonies required payment to the Protestant denomination of their choice. Only Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island did not require religious payments.
Although I'm really only familiar with Maryland, because DC was originally part of Maryland, and what is now St. Paul's Episcopal Church on "Rock Creek Church Road," was the official church for that part of what is now DC.
Maryland was originally founded with a doctrine of religious freedom, and the earliest Lords Calvert were Catholic. Because the Calverts continued to practice the Catholic faith, eventually the Royal Charter was withdrawn from them, in 1689, and the Church of England became the state religion in Maryland.
All householders had to pay a tax to support the operations of the church in their region. Later the Calverts converted, and in 1699, the Royal Charter was restored.
(We don't know where the chapel was located but it was probably close to origin point of Queens Chapel Road, which is near the intersection of 18th and Irving Streets NE, on the Woodridge side of 18th Street.)
For some time, I've let myself believe that the example of the Queens and Maryland was one of the influences on what became the final wording of the First Amendment.
Based on my interpretation of those events, I figured that resentment over having to pay to the church, even if you chose not to practice that faith, was a key impetus behind this clause of the First Amendment.
Not so much the ability to practice religion free of the state, but the ability to not practice religion or a particular religion. And definitely to not be forced to pay for its maintenance ("Public Funding of Religious Activity in 18th-Century America," Pew Research Center).
OTOH, because the Calverts started out Catholic and understood the problems their practice of an unapproved religion created for them politically and financially vis a vis the King of England, they were more tolerant of other faiths, and in 1649, they facilitated the passage of the Maryland Toleration Act, one of the earliest laws mandating religious tolerance for the practice of other religions.
So you can make the argument that the First Amendment clause about religion is equally about the freedom to practice religion, as much as it is to not practice it.
Be that as it may, the rise in religionism on the part of conservatives and the frequent involvement of religion-related interpretations in federal lawmaking and interpretation is about religious perspectives superseding the independence of government from religion and vice versa ("Religion and Right-Wing Politics: How Evangelicals Reshaped Elections," New York Times).
The SLDN article makes the point that originally the Constitution ordered the relationship between the federal government and states, and citizens, but that states were not subject to all of its provision.
Therefore, official religions persisted in some states for some time after the creation of the United States. So the tension of church and state, and yielding authority to either the state or to religion remains.