FREEDOM OF RELIGION (Part 1)
By Bob Hegamin July 13, 2000
The First Amendment grants to the people the right of the Freedom of Religion. It was the first segment of the very first amendment of the Bill of Rights making it reasonable to assume the issue was of the gravest concern to the Antifederalists. In its entirety, the First Amendment states that:
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 the redress of grievance .
In order to guarantee a measure of success for the new nation, the Antifederalists had secured in the Constitution,via the amendment, an "arms-length" separation between government andreligion, lack of which led to the abuse of power in European countries.It would prevent government from using the doctrinal, devotional and ritualobservances of a designated religion to control the general population.
However, today's battles over application of the First Amendment ring hollow. Understandably, the framers of the Declaration of Independence had not wanted their new republic to "self-destruct",so the Constitution was written to include the Freedom of Religion mandating a separation between the doctrines of all religions andgovernment. Unfortunately, the mantra of today's "separation of churchand state" is being used to attack any act or word perceived to be "religious",both in the public and private sectors. Accordingly, the judiciary nowfinds itself summarily eliminating all references in society to the deityof Christianity despite the intent of the Amendment, which does not oppose the use of words or acts of a specific religion as long as they don't promote its doctrine. Unless that is true, even theDeclaration of Independence is in violation of the Constitution, sinceit recognizes the source of the individual's inalienable rights to beeither "God" or "Creator."
In the context of the First Amendment, the Freedom of Religion has two segments.
First “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.." This part of the amendment is explicit. On the other hand, its corollary establishes that no religion shall be allowed to manipulate or utilize government for the purpose of governing the people. Europe was still fresh in the minds of this country’s new leaders. They were well aware of the part religion had played in controlling governments in Europe andwere going to see that it was not going to happen here.
This issue was violently argued between the Federalists and the Antifederalists. The former were led by Alexander Hamilton, who backed a strong central government while the Antifederalists, led by Thomas Jefferson, considered the liberties of the people and their ability to govern themselves more important. It was from this perspective that the Antifederalists sealed the "loop-hole", which would have allowed government to establish a national morality based on the ethics of one particular religion.
Secondly, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; ..” This section of the amendment guarantees a person the right to practice the religion of choice without interference from government. And, in order to assure Americans they would not be subjected to an infinite number of random and uncoordinated laws, rules and regulations regarding religion, oversight of the "Freedom of Religion" was assigned to the courts.
However, their recent decisions now allow only those who promote human values - without alluding to any religious doctrine- to govern the people. Obliquely, they have thus denied all other Americans their First Amendment right to even publicly display or express a religious tradition without censure.