Explaining “Freedom of Religion” for Those Who Seem Unable to Understand What it Means

    By Allen Clifton | 30 December 2013
    Forward Progressives

    In this country, there are very few individuals who can rightfully call themselves “Constitutional scholars.” Sure, there are people who know a decent amount about our Constitution, but being an “expert” on a subject is a completely different thing.

    But wow, when it comes to politics, it seems everyone suddenly becomes an expert on the Constitution.

    As for myself, I’ve never pretended to be an expert on our Constitution. I’ve read over it a few times and often use basic common sense when assessing how it translates into our modern society. After all, it was written in the late-1700’s. Society is a little different now than it was then.

    That being said, there are some areas of the Constitution that are pretty straight forward. Our “freedom of religion” right found within the First Amendment is one of those pretty straight forward rights. Well, at least to me it is.

    There’s not really a whole lot to interpret:

    Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof

    If our Founding Fathers had meant for “freedom of religion” to mean only Christianity, I’m pretty sure that would have been specified.

    But it wasn’t. In fact, the word “Christianity” is found nowhere in our Constitution. Not even once.

    The Founding Fathers were smart about this. They kept religion out of government. Just look at a letter Thomas Jefferson wrote concerning this very issue (emphasis mine):

    To messers. Nehemiah Dodge, Ephraim Robbins, & Stephen S. Nelson, a committee of the Danbury Baptist association in the state of Connecticut.

    Gentlemen 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.

    Th Jefferson
    Jan. 1. 1802

    Or the Treaty of Tripoli, written by John Adams:

    As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.

    It’s pretty simple. Government and religion are to remain separate.

    See, “freedom of religion” means that in your personal life you are free to practice whatever religion you’d like. As an American, if you want to be Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, or follow no religion at all — you’re free to do so! Awesome, isn’t it?

    Heck, like I’ve said before, you can subscribe to a new religion every single day of the week if you want. This country isn’t allowed to establish laws based on any form of an establishment of religion. Americans can practice their religion every waking moment they feel like doing so within their private homes or religious places of worship.

    But what you can’t do, and what conservatives constantly try to do, is force your personal religious views on other people. See, this is where conservatives don’t understand what “freedom of religion” means.

    What it does protect is that privately you can practice whatever religion you want. What it does not protect is a person’s attempt to force their personal religious views on others because they happen to disagree with them. In fact, by doing so, that’s actually the opposite of the freedom of religion.

    In fact, any law based on religious beliefs is actually a violation of the First Amendment.

    This isn’t rocket science.

    Let me explain it like this on an issue such as homosexuality. If, as a Christian, I believe homosexuality to not be immoral, I’m right. Just as someone who calls themselves a Christian, yet believes homosexuality to be a sin, is right as well. See, that’s freedom of religion. We might disagree with one another about what “Christianity” is, but when it comes to someone’s personal faith — there are really no right or wrong answers.

    Now, if that person wants to tell someone else that they must follow their definition of what Christianity is by supporting laws which force them to do so, that’s a violation of the First Amendment.

    Preventing someone from violating another person’s rights isn’t an attack on their rights — it’s preventing them from violating someone else’s rights.

    These people are still free to believe however they want (no matter how ignorant those beliefs might be), they’re just not allowed to force others to follow the same “moral code” they claim to live by.

    Do you see why religion and government should be kept separate? It’s so much easier to say, “If you give one person a right protected by law, everyone should have that same right,” as opposed to trying to base laws on religious views that millions within the same faith can’t even agree upon — much less those of a different faith or no faith at all.

    Allen Clifton is from the Dallas-Fort Worth area and has a degree in Political Science. He is a co-founder of Forward Progressives, and author of the popular Right Off A Cliff column.

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    1. Thank you for taking the time to spell out what the Constitution actually says and means. I often get the feeling that many people have forgotten how to read and many more have forgotten how to comprehend what they do read. You post explains it in terms that i hope most can understand. Thank you again.


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