Freedom and liberty, as most realize, did not and does not come free, nor is it maintained at a low cost (go here). In recent times, personal freedoms (in the USA) appear to be under attack from many different areas, not least of which is our ability to practice whatever religion we choose, in all areas of our lives. It seems that many people today, including many judges, have forgotten the actual words and purpose of our First Amendment:
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.
Let us look at that famous passage in more depth by taking it apart into smaller pieces:
CONGRESS SHALL MAKE NO LAW: It is clear that Congress cannot establish a religion. A reasonable search of the historical record reveals that our founding fathers wanted to protect against a State Church. However, nowhere in that phrase does it state that religion cannot have a word about the State. The phrase says the exact opposite. Congress cannot prevent religions from free expression, which also includes expression in the public arena. Our culture attempts to rewrite the First Amendment by telling us that we must practice our faith in private. We must relegate faith to our homes or houses of worship (thereby declaring faith has no business in matters of the State). That is nonsense because people of faith have a right to express their views both in private and public arenas. Nowhere in the historical record is there a time when the founders stated we must ignore our faith while in a public setting. The founders wanted to make sure the state did not infringe upon the free expression of faith—-they never intended it to be a two-way concept.
Using the false argument of separating Church and State would mean that no person of strong faith can ever hold a public office or hold a public opinion because faith helps to form the heart, soul, and thoughts of an individual with an abiding faith. Nowhere in our Constitution are people of deep faith prohibited from holding office. It is a modern construct to attempt to derail faith-based morals from having any impact on the nation.
OR THE PROHIBITING THE FREE EXERCISE THEREOF: This phrase seems lost to current USA culture. Congress cannot prohibit the free exercise of religion. It cannot make laws that prohibit or limit the free exercise of religion and as stated above Congress cannot remove the free expression of religion from the public sphere. Nowhere in the Constitution does it say religions must withhold views on civil matters. As previously stated, many people today speak of the so-called wall separating Church and State. Nowhere in the Constitution does it say any such barrier exists. If anything of this wall is true, then the wall exists to prevent the State from intervening in religious practice. In other words, the so-called wall is one-way; it protects the rights of a free people to practice the faith of their choice without any interference from the State. Today, many people fight legal battles to keep the State out of religion, and they fight against people of faith who object to individual acts as their formed conscience dictates. The intent with those legal battles is to remove any vestige of religion from the public sphere. However, nowhere in the Constitution is the right to attack faith ever given. A letter written by Thomas Jefferson to Baptists in Danbury, Connecticut, is the sole support for the mythical wall between Church and State:
January 1, 1802
To messers. Nehemiah Dodge, Ephraim Robbins, & Stephen S. Nelson, a committee of the Danbury Baptist association in the state of Connecticut.
The affectionate sentiments of esteem and approbation which you are so good as to express towards me, on behalf of the Danbury Baptist association, give me the highest satisfaction. My duties dictate a faithful and zealous pursuit of the interests of my constituents, & in proportion as they are persuaded of my fidelity to those duties, the discharge of them becomes more and more pleasing.
Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church & State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.
I reciprocate your kind prayers for the protection & blessing of the common father and creator of man, and tender you for yourselves & your religious association, assurances of my high respect & esteem.
There are several points to make about Jefferson’s letter:
- His message has no binding authority upon our government. The letter reflected his opinion—no founding document contains those views.
- Jefferson was stating that, from his perspective, the State had no right to interfere in matters of faith. The so-called wall, if we somehow glean it from the Jefferson letter, is a one-way barrier preventing the State from infringing on issues of faith—not the other way. Jefferson reiterates the First Amendment decree that the legislature: “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”
- He ends his letter with an offer of prayers for those people he was addressing—it is an act often ignored today. His offer of prayers contradicts any thought that he was against Churches or against matters of faith, which counters the mistaken views of many today. Jefferson had faith, he had enormous respect for the many Churches, and he had respect for people of faith. He held the opinion that Churches and faith must receive protection from the State. He did not hold that the State required protection from Churches or from people of faith—that is a modern perversion of Jefferson’s words and the intent of our founders, and of the first amendment.
OR ABRIDGING THE FREEDOM OF SPEECH, OR OF THE PRESS: Liberty is such an important right that the freedom to speak receives significant treatment—and that applies to speech vocally and in writing. Today, many laws pass under the umbrella of hate speech. If a person holds opinion X, some consider it unlawful hate speech, and that person is condemned. It ‘s hard to overstate the societal dangers contained in this new national trend to make thoughts illegal and to legislate that thoughts are more debased in their nature than criminal acts. Albeit, some people do indeed hold vile thoughts, yet thoughts are not acts. When we start banning another person’s thoughts (no matter how vile), it is a question of time before our thoughts are declared illegal or are somehow legally marginalized. We should wonder when various beliefs held by Churches will fall under hate-crime investigation (thereby usurping our Constitutional right to free expression of religion).
If we allow the myth of the Separation of Church and State to continue, what recourse do people of faith have to prevent the state from dictating what Churches will teach? After all, many of our ancestors fled Europe to live a free life here and to have the ability to practice their faith without any interference from the state. So why would we allow the state to do to us that which our ancestors came here to escape? Are these perversions of our rights a reflection of what our founders warned us so clearly about (a government that has run away from its real purpose)?
OR THE RIGHT OF THE PEOPLE PEACEABLY TO ASSEMBLE, AND TO PETITION THE GOVERNMENT FOR A REDRESS OF GRIEVANCES: Is there any real recourse for a redress of our grievances? Our government is so large and bloated; it is so cut-off from the people and so sheltered from everyday working people, that meaningful redress of grievances has become nearly impossible. Forged from a kettle of violence, the USA, in the early days, did not look as if it would come to fruition. We owe our founding fathers and citizens an enormous debt, a debt that we can best repay by ensuring that we pass on the freedoms that they bled and died for, to each successive generation. Everything the founders fought for will have been lost if we watch our freedoms disappear.
We do not want (nor does the Constitution allow for) the legal national establishment of any church or faith; however, we must not forget that our founders struggled to build a form of government that intentionally placed Free of Religion as one of our cornerstone liberties. Our founders never sought to force people to keep their faith private–they expected citizens to live their faith across the everyday happenings of their lives. Many of our founders felt strongly that a free nation must be populated by moral and religious people (go here for several quotes).
Please let me know what you think by leaving a comment. 🙂
[Excerpts taken from my non-fiction book: Catholics: It is our Fault!]
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