Sunday, November 2, 2008

A History Lesson - Freedom of Religion

"The propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right, which Heaven itself has ordained." —George Washington, First Inaugural Address, April 30, 1789

"When the founding fathers set up the constitution, to ensure that personal freedoms and liberties of its citizens would be guaranteed, ten Amendments to the newly created U.S. Constitution were ratified. The first ten, called the Bill of Rights, sets forth rights of the people against an oppressive government. The first of these Amendments provide its citizens particular rights and freedoms that are fundamental to any free society. These activities included the suppression of non-state religions, the suppression of speech in any form, the obstruction of the assembly of individuals, and the lack of representation of its citizens in the legislature.

The First Amendment 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."

The first of these rights concerns religion. What was the original intent of the framers when they drafted the clauses for the Freedom of Religion?

"The blending of religion and state is not a new concept and was created with the genesis of political systems long before the birth of the United States. This concept has been around for centuries. This gave the rulers the power to govern all the lands of their country, as well in many cases to also be the head of that religion. It became the common practice to include the church in all matters of state.

As the number of religions and religious sects continued to grow in Europe, the governments, and especially the established churches, were fearful that their power was in danger.

Most of the first colonists in America were concerned with the pursuit of their own religious freedom, but were not interested in the freedoms of other religions, or other sects of that religion. In 1610, the Jamestown colony enacted Dale's Law, named after the colony's first governor.[12] This law required all colonists to attend all Anglican worship, provisions against blasphemy, or even criticism of the church. Violations of these laws could eventually lead to death. This is contrary to the religiously tolerant county which Thomas Paine describes in Common Sense as:

"This new world hath been the asylum for the persecuted lovers of civil and religious liberty from every part of Europe. Hither have they fled, not from the tender embrace of the mother, but from the cruelty of the monster; and it is so far true of England, that the same tyranny which drove the first emigrants home pursues their descendants still."

This was also demonstrated in colonies throughout Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Hampshire. The Puritans were a religious group which broke off from the Anglican Church of England, and those that openly practiced their beliefs were stricken of their wealth, and their lives. The Puritans came to the new world to get away from the religious persecution. They came in 1620 to Plymouth, Massachusetts, and later in 1628 to Massachusetts Bay.

Not all of the colonies were formed with the concept of enforcing established religions. Two notable exceptions were Rhode Island and Pennsylvania. Roger Williams founded the Rhode Island colony in 1636 based on the idea that in order to keep religion pure, it must be separated from the constraints and regulations of the state. This new colony was based on a principle of religious liberty and took in individuals who were trying to get away from religious persecution at the other colonies. The colony at Pennsylvania was founded in 1682 by a Quaker named William Penn. The Quakers believed that religion should be free of state control in its thought or practice. Political office, however, was still only available to Christians. By the late eighteenth century many of the colonies were becoming saturated with individuals from many Christian sects and to a lesser extent from other religions.

When George III became the King of England, he put many new restrictions and taxes upon his North American colonies. The statesmen, leaders, and thinkers of the colonies decided that they need to come together and form some sort of coalition against the oppression. The First Continental Congress was thus created and a Declaration of Colonial Rights was created on October 14, 1774.

On May 25, 1787, fifty five delegates from the thirteen colonies convened upon Philadelphia for the Constitutional Convention. After the Revolutionary War, the Articles of Confederation (which did not include any provisions for the freedom of religion) were created in 1781 to bring cohesion to the thirteen colonies.

These delegates drafted the United States Constitution that created a more powerful centralized government. The drafters, however, were still skeptical about placing too much power in the hands of a central government. They created specific enumerated rights for this government, and reserved all other powers to the individual states and its citizens. This new government was divided into three branches, each of which could place checks and balances on the next. The framers believed that if no one entity retains too much power, the government will be able to survive. As Madison wrote; "[B]y so contriving the interior structure of the government as that its several constituent parts may, by their mutual relations, be the means of keeping each other in their proper places."

The Constitution, as it was written, only mentions religion once. In Article VI, paragraph 3, the Constitution states that state and federal office holders "shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States."{emphasis added} This paragraph allows any individual to hold office, regardless of their religion. However, there is no other reference to religion anywhere in the Constitution. Even with this silence on religion, the Constitution was ratified in 1789. By not mentioning religion, the delegates were avoiding controversy, since each individual state had their idea of religious freedom. By excluding religion in the document, the statesmen could also be silently advocating the separation of religion from this new nation, as expressed by Madison; " [the Constitution was not to grant] a shadow of right in the general government to intermeddle with religion."

The Bill of Rights was proposed to the First U.S. Congress, and there was debate on the matter. After some discussion, the Amendments were submitted to the states for ratification on September 25, 1789, and ten of the original twelve Amendments proposed by Congress to the States were ratified.

We do know that there were several versions of the freedom of religion which were discussed. The one version, which was titled as Article the Third, stated; "Congress shall make no law establishing religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, nor shall the rights of Conscience be infringed." Other versions included "Congress shall make no law establishing one religious sect or society in preference to others." and "Congress shall not make any law infringing the rights of conscience, or establishing any religious sect or society." Finally, on December 15, 1791, the Bill of Rights was ratified and the version which was agreed upon is as follows; "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

During the late part of the eighteenth century, revolutionary events were being performed at all levels of society. The colonists were rebelling against their overseas' ruler and a new country was being born based on the principle of an individual's rights. The founding fathers, as you have already seen, had lived in an era where church and state in some places were inseparable. The history of church and state being intertwined was deeply rooted in their thoughts and beliefs. The idea of separating church and state was a revolutionary one, to say the least. But, did these founding fathers really intend to separate religion from the government completely? These men, whom were raised in homes where Christianity was deeply rooted may not have really intended to have a total alienation of religion from the government.

Every year, millions of Americans celebrate July fourth in commemoration of the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. The document was first drafted by Thomas Jefferson and proposed to the Continental Congress in Philadelphia. The document contains references to a supreme being and the protection of such a being. The references are as follows: " Nature's God," "[T]hat they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights," and "with a firm Reliance on the Protection of divine Providence." The Declaration goes on to speak of all of the reasons why the colonies are declaring their independence, but religious freedom is not amongst them. The document implies that there are natural rights which are given by a deity, and it is this supreme being that will protect them in their upcoming struggles.

The Continental Congress, soon after passing the Declaration of Independence, establish a new committee to develop a seal for the newly formed United States of America.

The "Eye of Providence" and the motto "E Pluribus Unum" (One out of many), which were in the committee's proposal did make it into the final design. The final design, which was approved in 1782, could be seen on the back side of the dollar bill and would have been one which would have been appreciated by the committee. The words "Annuit Coeptis" were written above the Eye of Providence "indicating that it was Providence [God] that 'favored our undertakings'." Once again, even in our nation's seal, which has been used for over two hundred years, there are outright religious connotations."

(sources for quotes:

As we look back through time, can we comprehend what our Founding Fathers meant by Religious Freedom? Our Founding Fathers wanted Church and State separate - so the individuals in this new country would have freedom to worship how they believed. They did not want an "American Church" or one State Church as there was in England. From their own words, there is an assumption that the government should not punish any individual for their religious beliefs, thoughts, or actions. The basic idea of freedom of religion is that no one, especially the government, is allowed to force religion on anyone else or prohibit anyone from practicing a religion. To force others to support a church or profess belief in a church's tenets is as much a violation of their civil rights as is preventing them from practicing their religion.

One component of freedom of religion is freedom of conscience. This is the freedom to hold and express our ideas sincerely. It is our civil right to accept or reject any religion or religious idea, and to do so openly and honestly without fear or coercion.

However it was not their intention to remove the Creator (as can be seen in the Declaration of Independence as it acknowledges a Creator) out of our country nor did the first amendment state that our country was free FROM religion or free FROM religious values.

Mitt Romney explains this concept very clearly: "There are some who may feel that religion is not a matter to be seriously considered in the context of the weighty threats that face us. If so, they are at odds with the nation's founders, for they, when our nation faced its greatest peril, sought the blessings of the Creator. And further, they discovered the essential connection between the survival of a free land and the protection of religious freedom. In John Adams' words: 'We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion... Our constitution was made for a moral and religious people.'

Freedom requires religion just as religion requires freedom. Freedom opens the windows of the soul so that man can discover his most profound beliefs and commune with God. Freedom and religion endure together, or perish alone.

A person should not be elected because of his faith nor should he be rejected because of his faith. As a young man, Lincoln described what he called America's 'political religion' - the commitment to defend the rule of law and the Constitution. When one place his hand on the Bible and takes the oath of office, that oath becomes his highest promise to God. A President serves no one religion, no one group, no one cause, and no one interest. A President must serve only the common cause of the people of the United States.

Each religion has its own unique doctrines and history. These are not bases for criticism but rather a test of our tolerance. Religious tolerance would be a shallow principle indeed if it were reserved only for faiths with which we agree. There are some who would have a presidential candidate describe and explain his church's distinctive doctrines. To do so would enable the very religious test the founders prohibited in the Constitution. No candidate should become the spokesman for his faith. For if he becomes President he will need the prayers of the people of all faiths.

It is important to recognize that while differences in theology exist between the churches in America, we share a common creed of moral convictions. And where the affairs of our nation are concerned, it's usually a sound rule to focus on the latter - on the great moral principles that urge us all on a common course. Whether it was the cause of abolition, or civil rights, or the right to life itself, no movement of conscience can succeed in America that cannot speak to the convictions of religious people.

We separate church and state affairs in this country, and for good reason. No religion should dictate to the state nor should the state interfere with the free practice of religion. But in recent years, the notion of the separation of church and state has been taken by some well beyond its original meaning. They seek to remove from the public domain any acknowledgment of God. Religion is seen as merely a private affair with no place in public life. It is as if they are intent on establishing a new religion in America - the religion of secularism. They are wrong.

The founders proscribed the establishment of a state religion, but they did not countenance the elimination of religion from the public square. We are a nation 'Under God' and in God, we do indeed trust.

We should acknowledge the Creator as did the Founders - in ceremony and word. He should remain on our currency, in our pledge, in the teaching of our history, and during the holiday season, nativity scenes and menorahs should be welcome in our public places. Our greatness would not long endure without judges who respect the foundation of faith upon which our constitution rests. I will take care to separate the affairs of government from any religion, but I will not separate us from 'the God who gave us liberty.'

Nor would I separate us from our religious heritage. Perhaps the most important question to ask a person of faith who seeks a political office, is this: does he share these American values: the equality of human kind, the obligation to serve one another, and a steadfast commitment to liberty?

They are not unique to any one denomination. They belong to the great moral inheritance we hold in common. They are the firm ground on which Americans of different faiths meet and stand as a nation, united.

The consequence of our common humanity is our responsibility to one another, to our fellow Americans foremost, but also to every child of God. It is an obligation which is fulfilled by Americans every day, here and across the globe, without regard to creed or race or nationality.

Americans acknowledge that liberty is a gift of God, not an indulgence of government. No people in the history of the world have sacrificed as much for liberty. The lives of hundreds of thousands of America's sons and daughters were laid down during the last century to preserve freedom, for us and for freedom loving people throughout the world. America took nothing from that Century's terrible wars - no land from Germany or Japan or Korea; no treasure; no oath of fealty. America's resolve in the defense of liberty has been tested time and again. It has not been found wanting, nor must it ever be. America must never falter in holding high the banner of freedom.

Today's generations of Americans have always known religious liberty. Perhaps we forget the long and arduous path our nation's forebearers took to achieve it. They came here from England to seek freedom of religion. But upon finding it for themselves, they at first denied it to others. Because of their diverse beliefs, Ann Hutchinson was exiled from Massachusetts Bay, a banished Roger Williams founded Rhode Island, and two centuries later, Brigham Young set out for the West. Americans were unable to accommodate their commitment to their own faith with an appreciation for the convictions of others to different faiths. In this, they were very much like those of the European nations they had left.

It was in Philadelphia that our founding fathers defined a revolutionary vision of liberty, grounded on self evident truths about the equality of all, and the inalienable rights with which each is endowed by his Creator.

We cherish these sacred rights, and secure them in our Constitutional order. Foremost do we protect religious liberty, not as a matter of policy but as a matter of right. There will be no established church, and we are guaranteed the free exercise of our religion.

The establishment of state religions in Europe did no favor to Europe's churches. And though you will find many people of strong faith there, the churches themselves seem to be withering away.

Infinitely worse is the other extreme, the creed of conversion by conquest: violent Jihad, murder as martyrdom... killing Christians, Jews, and Muslims with equal indifference. These radical Islamists do their preaching not by reason or example, but in the coercion of minds and the shedding of blood. We face no greater danger today than theocratic tyranny, and the boundless suffering these states and groups could inflict if given the chance.

The diversity of our cultural expression, and the vibrancy of our religious dialogue, has kept America in the forefront of civilized nations even as others regard religious freedom as something to be destroyed.

In such a world, we can be deeply thankful that we live in a land where reason and religion are friends and allies in the cause of liberty, joined against the evils and dangers of the day. And you can be certain of this: Any believer in religious freedom, any person who has knelt in prayer to the Almighty, has a friend and ally in me. And so it is for hundreds of millions of our countrymen: we do not insist on a single strain of religion - rather, we welcome our nation's symphony of faith.

Recall the early days of the First Continental Congress in Philadelphia, during the fall of 1774. With Boston occupied by British troops, there were rumors of imminent hostilities and fears of an impending war. In this time of peril, someone suggested that they pray. But there were objections. 'They were too divided in religious sentiments', what with Episcopalians and Quakers, Anabaptists and Congregationalists, Presbyterians and Catholics.

"Then Sam Adams rose, and said he would hear a prayer from anyone of piety and good character, as long as they were a patriot.

And so together they prayed, and together they fought, and together, by the grace of God ... they founded this great nation.

In that spirit, let us give thanks to the divine 'author of liberty.' And together, let us pray that this land may always be blessed, 'with freedom's holy light'."

(quotes from: Faith In America by Mitt Romney )

To more fully understand this concepts that Mitt Romney explains so clearly, here are some quotes from great leaders of our country and their views about God in our country:

"ROBERT E. LEE: "In all my perplexities and distresses, the Bible has never failed to give me light and strength." (p. 21)

DANIEL WEBSTER: "If we abide by the principles taught in the Bible, our country will go on prospering and to prosper." (p. 21)

JOHN QUINCY ADAMS: "I have made it a practice for several years to read the Bible through in the course of every year." (p. 22)

ABRAHAM LINCOLN: "I believe the Bible is the best gift God has ever given to man. All the good from the Saviour of the world is communicated to us through this book." (p. 22)

GEORGE WASHINGTON: "It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible." (p. 22)

HORACE GREELEY: "It is impossible to mentally or socially enslave a Bible-reading people." (p. 23)

THOMAS JEFFERSON: "I hold the precepts of Jesus as delivered by himself to be the most pure, benevolent, and sublime which have ever been preached to man. I adhere to the principles of the first age; and consider all subsequent innovations as corruptions of this religion, having no foundation in what came from him." (p. 45)

THOMAS JEFFERSON: "Had the doctrines of Jesus been preached always as pure as they came from his lips, the whole civilized world would by now have become Christian." (p. 47)

BENJAMIN FRANKLIN: "As to Jesus of Nazareth, my opinion of whom you particularly desire, I think the system of morals and his religion, as he left them to us, is the best the world ever saw, or is likely to see." (p.49)

WOODROW WILSON: "The sum of the whole matter is this----that our civilization cannot survive materially unless it be redeemed spiritually. It can only be saved by becoming permeated with the spirit of Christ and being made free and happy by practices which spring out of that spirit." (p. 143)

PATRICK HENRY: "There is a just God who presides over the destiny of nations." (p. 145)

THOMAS JEFFERSON: "Material abundance without character is the surest way to destruction." (p. 225)

THOMAS JEFFERSON: "Of all the systems of morality, ancient or modern, which have come under my observation, none appear to me so pure as that of Jesus." (p. 237)

GEORGE WASHINGTON: "The foolish and wicked practice of profane cursing and swearing is a vice so mean and low, that every person of sense and character detests and despises it." (p. 283)

BENJAMIN FRANKLIN: "Here is my creed. I believe in one God, the Creator of the universe. That he governs it by his Providence. That he ought to be worshiped." (p. 301)

CALVIN COOLIDGE: "The strength of a country is the strength of its religious convictions." (p. 305)

GEORGE WASHINGTON: "The perpetuity of this nation depends upon the religious education of the young." (p. 306)

Prior to our increasingly "Hell-Bound and Happy" era, America's greatest leaders were part of the (gulp) Religious Right! Today we have forgotten God's threat (to abort America) in Psa. 50:22----"Now consider this, ye that forget God, lest I tear you in pieces, and there be none to deliver"."

taken from Dangerous Radicals of the Religious Right, by Dave MacPherson [quotes are from Vital Quotations by Emerson West]

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