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Term that came into popular use when President George W. Bush established the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives in 2001. Generally, the adjective faith alone is preferred, as in faith groups instead of faith-based groups.

Filed in Government and politics, Religion and culture


Use the Rev. in first reference before the names of Episcopal, Orthodox and Roman Catholic priests. On second reference use only the cleric’s last name. Use Father before a name only in direct quotations.

Filed in Anglican/Episcopalian, Catholicism, Orthodoxy, Religious titles

Fathers of the Church

Important teachers and theologians from the first few centuries of Christianity whose writings came too late to be included in the canon of the New Testament.

Filed in Anglican/Episcopalian, Catholicism, Christianity, Orthodoxy, Protestantism


Pronounced “FAHT-wah.” A ruling, or legal opinion, on Islamic law issued by an Islamic scholar.

Filed in Islam


Pronounced “fik-h.” Islamic jurisprudence, based on study of the Quran and other sacred texts.

Filed in Islam

First Amendment

Written by James Madison, the First Amendment guarantees basic freedoms and is the root of disagreements over church-state issues involving the complicated relationship between the government and religious organizations. It went into effect with the Bill of Rights on Dec. 15, 1791. It states, “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.” See Establishment Clause and Free Exercise Clause.

Filed in Government and politics

First Presidency

In the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a trio of men operates collectively as the First Presidency, the church’s highest governing body. One of the three is the church’s president and the other two are his counselors, but as a group they are referred to as the First Presidency. See also Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Filed in Mormonism

Five K’s, Five Kakaars

Pronounced “ka-CARS.” The five articles of the Sikh faith. They are: kara, a steel bracelet; kanga, a comb; kirpan, a ceremonial dagger; kachera, undergarments; and kesh, long uncut hair that men and some women wrap in a turban. Most Sikhs wear some of the articles, while Sikhs who have received amrit sanchar (Sikh initiation) wear all five. Nearly all people who wear turbans in America are Sikh. See amrit sanchar and Khalsa.

Filed in Sikhism

Five Pillars

The fundamental aspects of Islam that direct the private lives of Muslims in their dealings with God. All branches of Islam accept them. The First Pillar is the Shahada, or profession of faith, that there is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet. The Second Pillar is salat, or the five daily or canonical prayers for remaining constant in the faith. They are performed at prescribed times with a prescribed ritual. The Third Pillar is zakat, charity for the poor. The Fourth Pillar is fasting during the holy month of Ramadan. The Fifth Pillar is hajj, or the pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca. Every Muslim who is physically and financially able is required to make the journey once.

Filed in Islam

Five Precepts

In Buddhism, principles for conduct that are followed by lay adherents. They are: Do not kill; do not steal; do not lie; do not be unchaste; do not take intoxicants. These precepts have broader, metaphorical as well as literal applications; for example, “Do not steal” means more broadly, “Do not take what is not given.”

Filed in Buddhism

Four Books, the

The fundamental teachings of Confucianism.

Filed in Confucianism

Four Noble Truths

The fundamental truths that the historical Buddha realized in meditation and then taught to his followers: Life is suffering; the cause of suffering is craving; suffering can be eliminated by the extinguishing of craving; there is a way to achieve this goal (by following eight principles of conduct). See Eightfold Path.

Filed in Buddhism

Free Exercise Clause

One of two clauses in the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution that address religion. It reads, “Congress shall make no law … prohibiting the free exercise (of religion).” As interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court through several decisions, a person’s right to believe in any religion – or none at all – is absolute, but the government can place limitations on free exercise. The court has ruled that any law that specifically targets a religion violates the First Amendment. The situation is much murkier when a law that is religiously neutral or generally applicable has the effect of interfering with a religious practice or belief. Through a series of rulings in the 1950s and 1960s, the high court determined that governments had to show a “compelling interest” for passing any laws that had an unintended effect of interfering with religious practice or belief. The burden of proving that compelling interest was heavy. But in 1990, the Supreme Court narrowed the scope of “compelling interest,” lightening the government’s burden and requiring little justification as long as the law was not aimed at a specific religion or religious practice. See Establishment Clause.

Filed in Government and politics


A person who evaluates religious belief systems solely on the basis of reason, rather than on dogma, tradition, faith or authority. The term freethought movement is often used to describe the full spectrum of nontheism.

Filed in Atheism/Agnosticism


Pronounced “FRAY-uh.” The major goddess of Ásatrú. She is a deity of death, fertility, love and magic. Although not married to the god Odin, she shares many characteristics with him; medieval literary sources state that she taught him to practice magic. Do not refer to her as “goddess of love,” a common misunderstanding that equates her with Venus.

Filed in Other faiths


This can be either a reference to Quakers or a term that Jehovah’s Witnesses commonly use for each other. Capitalize when referring to Quakers. The formal name of the Quakers is the Religious Society of Friends. See Quakers.

Filed in Jehovah’s Witnesses, Quaker

fundamentalism, fundamentalist

A Christian religious movement that began in the U.S. in the late 19th century and early 20th century to counter liberalism and secularism. It emphasized the inerrancy of the Bible. In recent years, fundamentalist and fundamentalism have become associated with any religious reactionary movement, such as Islamic fundamentalism. The words also have been used as pejoratives. Journalists often, and erroneously, label all conservative Christians, including conservative evangelicals, as fundamentalists. It is best to avoid the words unless a group applies the terms to itself.

Filed in Christianity, Protestantism

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