Muftic: Freedom of religion; so often misunderstood
Recently the Tennessee House of Representatives attempted to pass a law that would have made the Bible the official state book. Their Senate realized, after their State’s Attorney General opined this, it would violate the First Amendment by approving the Book. It was establishing a religion. The attempt ended.
Bobby Jindal, Gov. of Louisiana, had made a public point in an invitation to a Christian event in Jan. 25, that the U.S. was founded by Christians and this is a Christian country. That this country was founded by Christians is true. The majority of the U.S. practices Christianity today, but the Constitution defined freedom of religion quite differently than that envisioned by our earliest settlers.
The Pilgrims, Christians, came to the U.S. to seek freedom to practice their religion, but not to establish freedom for others. The Mayflower Compact, the document written aboard their ship, was an understanding of what kind of colony they were founding and what the attitude should be of the non-Pilgrims accompanying them. They wrote as their purpose, “for the glory of God, and advancement of the Christian faith.” By the time of the Declaration of Independence and later officially when the U.S. Constitution was written, freedom of religion was meant for all practitioners of religion and even non-practitioners. The First Amendment made it clear that there should be no state religion. It reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religions, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. …”
The definition of freedom of religion addresses freedom for whom to do what. The Pilgrims and Puritans came to establish freedom of religion for themselves free to practice their own brand of Christianity free of the King of England. Tolerance of others was not their purpose. The Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony hung Quakers for not going along with their concept of purification. Roger Williams left the Colony to found Rhode Island because, “As faith is the free work of the Holy Spirit, it cannot be forced on a person.”
Nearly every colony had established their state-approved religion before 1776. Maryland tried to legislate tolerance. Unfortunately it got tangled up in the religious conflicts of the Cromwellian era and intolerance of Catholics lasted until the signing of the Declaration of Independence when Baptists and Presbyterians demanded disestablishment of state churches and protection of religious freedom
It was the son of the Age of Reason, Thomas Jefferson, who wrote the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom in 1779 and the concepts were incorporated in the First Amendment and who argued for separation of church and state. The Supreme Court has upheld the concept but modern applications have raised issues never envisioned by our forefathers, leading to many hair splitting rulings and more to come.
Yes, Christian protestants were the first founders of our nation but it took another 160 years for our forefathers to understand that separation of church and state was crucial to freedom for all to practice their religion and that there should be no established state religion.
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