The First Amendment Was Intended To Protect Us From The Religious Right

This piece was originally published at Forward Progressives.

Freedom of religion (and from it) was so vital to our Founding Fathers that they made it a key part of the First Amendment in the Bill of Rights. Religious freedom is what this country was originally founded on, and the Puritans demonstrated for us why the separation of church and state is so important today. Starting in the mid-1500s and lasting for almost 150 years, Europe was torn apart by a series of wars over which Christian denomination should rule. The Pilgrims left England, via Holland, and took ships to the New World so that they could practice their religion without fear of being persecuted by the Church of England, which was also busy persecuting the hell out of Catholics at that time.

One of the chief complaints was that the Catholic Church had entirely too much control over government and was also incredibly corrupt. Protestants wanted a religion that was simpler, and it is also argued that they wanted less religious control by the Church, partly due to corrupt practices that favored the clergy. The Church of England wasn’t much better, and many Puritan believers fled across the Atlantic for the sake of religious freedom.

Unfortunately, as soon as the Pilgrims landed in the New World, they promptly went about enforcing their own strict religious laws which resemble a lot of the beliefs of modern-day Christian Dominionists like Michele Bachmann and Rick Santorum. When people claim that this country was founded on religion, they’re right that the Puritans founded those colonies on their bizarre version of Christianity, but the other colonies that formed the first 13 states were much more secular. Other New England states like Rhode Island were originally formed due to the complete intolerance the Puritans had for anyone who wouldn’t follow their religious laws, including the Quakers who were persecuted by the religious majority in Massachusetts. In other words, America once had a theocracy with no separation of church and state, and it was awful.

If the Founding Fathers had intended on officially making the United States a Christian nation with Christian laws, they would not have put “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion” as the very first line of the First Amendment. They also would not have put “or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” if they had any beliefs that Christianity should be the only religion with protections. We don’t know if the Salem Witch Trials were on the mind of James Madison nearly one hundred years later, but a good argument could be made that the rigid intolerance of the Puritans influenced the decision to prohibit the government from granting favor to any one religion over another.

Now fast forward to 2016 and there are right-wing conservatives who are still insisting that this country was founded on Christianity. While Christian principles may have influenced the Founding Fathers, many of them subscribed to some degree of Deistic belief and viewed religion as a private matter, instead of a strict code by which government should be run. They were certainly polar opposites of the Puritans who had mostly disappeared as a political force in Massachusetts by the time of the American Revolution, although their religious ideas were still alive and well.

The Founding Fathers intended on this country being governed by reason and rule of law; that’s why we have the Constitution and the Bill of Rights which guarantee many individual freedoms. When the Supreme Court ruled earlier this year that all consenting adults have the right to marry under the Fourteenth Amendment, regardless of gender, the Puritans of our time had an emotional meltdown that they still have yet to get over. Even now in a couple of Kentucky counties, elected officials are refusing to abide by the Constitution because they believe that their Puritanical views override the law of the land, the individual rights of others be damned.

Additionally, they insist that the right to discriminate for religious reasons is guaranteed under the First Amendment – but that only applies to religious organizations and not government officials who have sworn an oath to uphold the Constitution, including the parts that they don’t like. The greatest ignorance of the religious right as exemplified in people like Kim Davis or Casey Davis is that they fail to realize the First Amendment was designed in order to protect our country from bigots just like them.

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  1. Simple yet thorough! Even if disagreed with by the religionists it is easy for them to understand. For the few educated among them, though, this article would slay them if referenced as university papers are. Otherwise it will be taken as an op-ed.

  2. As Thomas Jefferson wrote in the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, which these rights came BEFORE the rights of the religious:

    II. Be it enacted by the General Assembly, that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods

  3. Christianity demands the exclusive worship of a white male. This is toxic for white males who believe it.
    The reason the Originals codified a wall between Church and State was to distance themselves from worship of a single white king, invisible or visible.
    Americans could not be forced to bow to a ‘lord’ or ‘king.’

    • You sound exactly like a Fundamentalist trying to argue that they should be allowed to discriminate against those not of their narrow definition of Christianity.

      If you aren't, you should have made a better comment.

  4. Uh… no. This article is partly true and dangerous. How should I put this? It has a misdirect and asserts an abhorrent fabrication that flirts a rewrite of history. Sure, the founding fathers held fast to their religious conviction, but did not want to impose their views on others – the alleged very aim of this article. They imposed plurality of religion: respectful, shared, debated, and inclusive. But, to suggest that freedom “from” religion was somehow an option, is nonsense. They wanted separation of powers and a government that did not impose a religion – true. But, not the absence of it or its influence. Seriously? This country was founded on ideals borrowed from Christianity and its moral underpinnings, as BridgeBuilders have reconstructed scripture used in our laws. So? Angst against man’s twisted version of what God intended doesn’t change its deliberate inclusion by the founders in all they did and certainly does not mean freedom “from” as a collective society. But, yes, on an individual basis. We are a Christian nation in the sense Christian men and Christian ideals made this democracy. This is their source for the reason and rule of law this article claims. So, no. I won’t let someone go distort our history just cuz it’s inconvenient.

      • Unfortunately, many are Christian in name only. Their words and actions are what Christ preached against, arrogance, hatred, not turning the other cheek. The list goes on.

    • I disagree, Stephen. This country was not founded on Christian values, ideals, or ideology. Had it been so, the Constitution might have mentioned it. Odd, that. When one looks into it, one finds that a significant number of the founders were no Christian, and said so publicly. One of the country's first treaties, the Treaty of Peace and Friendship between the United States of America and the Bey and Subjects of Tripoli of Barbary, passed unanimously and without debate by the United States Senate and signed into law in 1796 by President John Adams clearly states:

      "As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen; and as the said States never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries."

      I'm often also told that the Ten Commandments are the foundation for our laws. Seven are unenforceable. The other three are 1. Don't lie. 2. Don't steal. 3. Don't harm. Is there a civilization anywhere in the world that doesn't have those same rules?

      History has not been distorted by articles such as this one. It has been distorted, however, by people who insist that the country was founded by Christians on Christian principles.

  5. The Puritans fled England because they wanted to be free to persecute anyone who didn’t stick with their particularly brutal form of Christianity.

  6. The Puritans/Pilgrims were genocidal English jihadists. We just don’t think of Algonquins as people. Native people couldn’t practice their religions until 1978.

    You are lying because you are infected with white supracist myths. Look at flag of Massachusetts.

  7. It’s funny how they fled British rule from religious persecution only to persecute others when they lived in the new world. They were quite the hypocrites. To break it down, our founding fathers put it in the constitution that no one person would be persecuted for their religious beliefs because most of them were not even Christian in the first place. If they were then wouldn’t you think the constitution would have been worded differently?!?

  8. Why would the Declaration of Independence use such statements as "equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them" and "that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights" unless the founding fathers believed that human rights have God as their source?

  9. In the news last year, governors / state legislatures. The framers of the ‘Teach the Bible as morality / history,’ ‘Bible Literacy,’ curriculum say it shall be ecumenical, but I am a little skeptical; there is the in the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, stating “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion;” a particular Christian / monotheistic denomination-religion. The cadence “Separation of Church and State,” is a half-truth.

    Alas; the danger of teaching Scripture in public schools being, fundamentalist, evangelical Protestantism-leaning. Anthropogenic global warming skeptics and young-Earth creationists, and ‘Once saved always saved’ for a couple. Where I am mainline Christian (Eastern Orthodox). I think that young-Earth creationism may be this slippery slope to man-made global warming skepticism; where, in turn, the instruction to—future voter—youth. Otherwise; be careful, and go launch this curriculum!


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