RELIGION IN GOVERNMENT
Whereas Almighty God hath created the mind free; that all attempts to influence it by temporal punishment or burthens, or by civil incapacitations, tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and are a departure from the plan of the Holy author of our religion, who being Lord both of body and mind, yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as was his Almighty power to do . .
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, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities . .
And though we well know that this assembly elected by the people for the ordinary purposes of legislation only, have no power to restrain the act of succeeding assemblies, constituted with powers equal to our own, and that therefore to declare this act to be irrevocable would be of no effect in law; yet we are free to declare, and do declare, that the rights hereby asserted are of the natural rights of mankind, and that if any act shall be hereafter passed to repeal the present, or to narrow its operation, such as would be an infringement of natural right.
— “THE VIRGINIA STATUTE OF RELIGIOUS FREEDOM”, drafted by Thomas Jefferson in 1777 and enacted by the Virginia General Assembly in 1786.
Thomas Jefferson’s greatest known work is the Declaration of Independence, which he penned in 1776. However, his subsequent drafting of the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom in 1779 arguably rivals his earlier work through its clarity of faithful thought and intellectual acuity. In fact, our third president was thought to have been most proud of the statute.
A precursor to the First Amendment, the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom is a statement concerning freedom of conscience and the principle of partition between church and state. In it Jefferson begins with a statement of natural right, a decree of his Deism – that is, the belief that God created the world and along with it, man’s capacity to govern himself. Jefferson believed that God, as creator, granted us freedom of choice, including liberty of conscience in religious matters and that any attempt to restrict it is misguided. Building from that foundation, the act itself states that no person can be compelled to attend any church or support it with his taxes, and that all shall be free to worship or not worship as he pleases with no discrimination at law.
We are to do as governors of men, as God does: allow freedom to reign supreme, regardless of whether we have the power to force others to believe as we do. Freedom of thought, freedom of religion, freedom to fail – Freedom!
Whereas Almighty God hath created the mind free; that all attempts to influence it by temporal punishment or burthens, or by civil incapacitations, tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and are a departure from the plan of the Holy author of our religion, who being Lord both of body and mind, yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as was his Almighty power to do . . .
Thomas Jefferson – “Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom” — 1777
Jefferson could have stopped there, but his genius propelled him to address the dangers that could arise as a result of the people’s proper right to change the law through their elected assemblies. Jefferson realized that the statute is not irrevocable because no law is, or ought to be. Because future assemblies are free to repeal or circumscribe the statute, Jefferson warned, appropriately, that any such circumscribing assembly would do so at their own peril, as to do so would be, “an infringement of natural right.
Today in America, we unfortunately find that Jefferson’s concern is coming to fruition. Americans of all religions suddenly now find themselves well down that slippery slope to no longer being religiously free, and by dint thereof, free at all!
The infringement upon each American’s natural right to be free in his religious practice is not being caused by the outright repeal of the First Amendment, but rather a circumscription of that freedom is rising from a chronic misapplication and material misunderstanding of the amendment’s true edict. As a result, we are witnessing a nationwide deterioration of the morality that served as the guiding principles in the formulation of our Constitution.
Family values, self worth and motivation, even the very lines between right and wrong are blurring, drowned out by the hustle and bustle of an increasingly frantic society too strained to stop and realize what they are losing, a government injudicious as to its purpose, and to a large extent – it all comes at the misguided behest of our nation’s “over-political correctness.”
More so now than ever, we are faced with a new type of religious America. “We the people,” has an entirely different scope than it did when our founding fathers wrote the Constitution. Spurred by the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, people from all over the world, not just Europe, have come to our shores, bringing with them their traditions and faiths. The religious creeds of the world – Islam, Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, Sikh, etc., all now call America home and the United States now exists as the most religiously diverse society since the dawn of civilization. The percentage of foreign born Americans has doubled from the 1970’s to over 10.5% of the population, with the Hispanic and Asian populations growing the fastest. It is truly a modern miracle.
It is our system of ordered liberty, commanding protection of the inalienable rights of those immigrants through ten fundamental rights, that has made this miracle possible on Earth. Men, women and children of all faiths live in the same neighborhoods, attend the same schools – but in America, unlike all civilizations before us, we do so in relative peace.
The Bill of Rights begins with the First Amendment, a decree that man shall not be converted by the sword. And it is through an innate, if not subconscious understanding of the Amendment’s true meaning, that Americans eagerly greet morally grounded faiths with open arms.
However, our selfless attempts to embrace these faiths and traditions with open arms have transformed into an over-zealous, and often imprudent passion to always be “politically correct”. It is going too far, and as a result we are quickly losing what it means to be an American.
The idea of religious freedom is central to the very idea of America. Religious freedom has always given rise to religious diversity, and never, in any nation on this planet, has there been such religious diversity as there currently is in the United States. We lead the rest of the world by this example, as a living, breathing testament to the power of ordered liberty. We should see that we are therefore in a unique position to create a truly pluralist society in which this grand diversity is not merely tolerated but embraced as the very source of our strength.
In order to do so – in order to avoid a collapse from within, though, we must understand the deepest meaning of our founding principles, with full acknowledgment that our system of ordered liberty is steeply grounded in faith, particularly Judeo-Christian morality. Instead, an errant, liberal ideology has permeated academia and deceived our judicial system. We are erroneously being taught that the First Amendment’s establishment clause means that the United States must purge all signs of religion from the public square.
Lawsuits to enjoin the local public library from displaying the Ten Commandments bombard the airwaves. In 2002 the 9th United States Circuit Court of Appeals declared the phrase “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, to be unconstitutional. An agenda that includes tearing down crosses, prohibiting crèches and menorahs on public property, indeed the absolute removal of God and faith from the public square is sweeping our land.
Many argue that it is a secular socialist machine that’s waging this war on religion because they see any religious worldview as the single greatest threat to their realization of a utopia where government is all powerful. Certainly some may fit that mold, but I believe the problem has a less insidious root.
A very real affront to religion, particularly the practice of Christianity in the public square, is growing out of most people’s desire to be politically correct, and despite the fact that they themselves are often religious. Why the particular assault on Christianity? Because Christianity was here first – it is the “establishment.” Those desirous of being politically correct tend to admonish the majority representing the establishment. Unfortunately, this lends to reverse-political incorrectness, where the majority is discriminated against and, ironically, they fail to speak up for fear of being seen as politically incorrect themselves. This “catch-22” phenomenon is similar to Caucasians, representing the majority and “establishment”, enduring reverse racism as a natural reaction to generations of long overdue political correctness.
All generations, regardless of race, wealth, or religion, inherit the consequences of their parents’ deeds.
We can all relate to this situation: invariably a person at the table says they aren’t religious, and you shouldn’t impose your beliefs on him. Unfortunately, so many of us simply shy away from the subject, knowing there is no way to convince this man that there is a God, much less that our God is the correct one to worship. But what happens when that man’s gripe begins to have the force of law, affirmatively denying us the right to respond? Must we not then stand up?
The problem is that this political correctness gone awry is creating a court enforced wall of separation between the true historical spirit of America and a radically different, secular America without God, traditional values, or an understanding of its own history. In an attempt not to discriminate, or show favoritism toward one religion, we find ourselves removing all faiths from the public sphere. This none or all approach, where no religion is allowed for fear of retribution from others, is catastrophic to the future of America and her system of ordered liberty.
We must take a stand, and do so with an understanding of our history and the importance of maintaining religion in the public sphere!
Therefore, let me begin with a rhetorical quiz:
Question: Why is it difficult to draft regulation that envisions every possible scenario and clearly addresses them in black and white?
A. Because someone always finds or creates a loophole, effectively skirting the law by hiding in creative gray areas; or
B. Because humans are stupid.
The answer, unfortunately is A.
The truth results from the ironic paradox created by man’s natural drive to aspire for a better future. It is our basic instinct to out-maneuver each other and gain the tactical advantage in our struggles for survival. These desires, combined with phenomenal intellect, form the backbone of innovation, indeed American capitalism. A desire to build a better home and future for our family drives us, and the freedom to do so is protected by our Constitution. The result is the most industrious nation on the planet.
Unfortunately, those same animalistic instincts can, and too often are, utilized to subvert the law. Hypothetically, let’s say that in response to the outcries for campaign finance reform, a regulation passes through Congress mandating that no single candidate can receive more than 2% of their campaign spending money from any single donor or corporation. The regulation is even concise as to the definition of “corporation”, setting out subsets to include LLC’s, S-Corps, charitable organizations, subsidiaries, affiliates, etc.
It is only a matter of time before some of those organizations, desirous for whatever reason to circumvent that law, team up with others to form a faction designed to exert more influence than their competitor. They will form the next version of a political action committee if necessary, binding together to further their special interests. At first, they will weasel into gray areas. Eventually, they will break the law outright and have either convinced Congress to rescind or simply not enforce the law. This necessitates more regulation, further restriction of freedom, and so goes the vicious downward cycle.
The point I am making is this:
“We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion . . . Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”
–John Adams, 2nd President, Signor of the Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights.
As a consequence of liberty, man must be responsible to govern himself. An immoral man will not abide by any regulation no matter how brilliantly crafted, for he is motivated by his very nature to circumvent that law’s application. A moral man, however, will stop at the temptation to evade the legislation if it means infringing upon the rights of others or unjustly taking advantage.
Today, we have lost sight of the need for morality in our people as a whole. We’ve all noticed it, and it is frightening. It’s not just that people are too busy or rude to acknowledge you as they pass on the street anymore; it’s that they are isolated and afraid. And in this isolation, immorality finds its breading ground.
Honorable people ask what they can do for their country, not what their country can do for them. Ethical people work hard for what they have, and do not expect or feel entitled to receive welfare. And while it is a just and altruistic goal to provide welfare for those in need, it is an immoral, unmotivated person that will game those programs to take advantage. Multiply this dishonest individual into millions, and they will bankrupt the system. This is what we face today in America, and the dearth in morality is cracking the foundation upon which the pillars of our civilization are built.
The cultural history of Western Civilization enlightens us as to the true meaning of what it is to be an American and what America must remember to stand for as the last best hope for humanity. This historical journey illuminates the legislative intent behind the First Amendment and equips us with the knowledge and power to forge a more perfect union for us all – a safer, cleaner, more affluent and more virtuous America.
The First Amendment to the United States Constitution reads as follows:
“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.”
By the black letter of this law, it is facially clear that nothing has been laid down in our Constitution to prohibit the free exercise of speech in regards to religion in the public sector. So then, what does it mean?
The Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom demonstrates our founding fathers’ very clear understanding that government must not have the power over the conscience of the governed to force them to worship God. However, the founding fathers also believed that government and its institutions derive their power to command from God and do so under God in that, through his own free will, he has chosen to allow us the freedom to govern ourselves without his interference.
It is this second tenement as to the role of God in our government that is too often swept under the rug by those that do not consider themselves religious. The exact freedom that protects the non-religious from legal injustices is the same freedom that protects the religious right to proclaim and celebrate faith in public without persecution.
Predominantly, if not entirely Christian, our founding fathers formed their view of God’s role in government, in part, from the Bible. Romans 13:1-6 state as follows:
“Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing.”
The Bible enlightened our founding fathers to the truth that government and its institutions derive their power to command from God and do so under God. Inspired by their creed’s very cannon, they declared the self-evident truth that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, and that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It is by this faith that our dollar bill states “In God we trust.”
Our founding fathers also realized that liberty was the true purpose of man’s government over man, but that maintenance of liberty and justice over a free people requires virtue:
“It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible” –George Washington.
“So great is my veneration for the Bible that the earlier my children begin to read it the more confident will be my hope that they will prove useful citizens of their country and respectable members of society…” –John Quincy Adams.
“That book, sir, is the rock on which our republic rests” –Andrew Jackson.
“We have staked the whole future of American civilization not on the power of government… not in the Constitution… (but) upon the capacity of each and every one of us to govern ourselves according to the Ten Commandments” –James Madison.
Our American way of thinking, though born of faith, evolved out of Western Civilization. Studying the cultures, their politics and struggles, helps us understand the majesty of Judeo-Christian morality and what it must mean for us today.
The original settlers came to America to practice their religious beliefs free from the dogma of the established churches. The Puritans came to create a “city on the hill” to shine as a beacon of religious piety. The Pilgrims and Quakers too came to found new religious communities.
The Europe they fled, and from which they gleaned centuries of unique insight, had a long tradition of religious persecution. The ebb and flow of Western Civilization from the Dark Ages of religious absolutism to the humanism and self-awareness of the Renaissance, for example, steeped our American settlers in a rich and tumultuous history out of which our founding fathers were enlightened. Their forefathers had lived through the Crusades, the Papal Schism, the Protestant Reformation and the ecclesiastical and structural reconfigurations of the Catholic Church in the Counter-Reformation that culminated in the Thirty Years War. They’d endured the combination of higher taxes, unsuccessful wars and conflicts with the Pope that lead to the Barons forcing King John of England to agree to the Magna Carta.
Braving the icy clutches of the Atlantic, our forefathers left Europe with a very clear understanding that the Ten Commandments, moral mandates they so fervently believed in, were paramount and critical not only to self-governance, but to the operation of a just government. Europe’s war torn history also taught them that religious intolerance, blind dogma and conversion by the sword are the greatest enemies of liberty.
The unique condition of Western Civilization, properly studied, enlightened our forefathers as to the greatest dichotomy of all. Religion, faith, morality and virtues are indespensible to the operaiton of government over a free people, while governments must not establish any law to require the practice of or abolishion of any religion- for to do so risks sectarian violence and the very destruciton of liberty.
This mindset is wholy in accord with the Bible. Romans 13:8, which immediately precedes the declaration that governments derive their right to command men through God, states as follows:
“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”
Being that love is the fulfillment of the law because it does no harm to your neighbor, it follows logically that one man must not take up the sword to convert his fellow man in the name of the Lord and certainly not in the name of the law. Truly, as Thomas Helwys wrote in A Short Declaration of the Mystery of Iniquity: “For men’s religion to God is between God and themselves. The king shall not answer for it. Let them be heretics, Turks, Jews, or whatsoever, it appertains not to the earthly power to punish them in the least measure.”
The principles learned from the Ten Commandments and studied by our forefathers – those virtues are the foundation of Judeo-Christian morality. This religious background, a centering of the Lord’s teaching that one is not to convert by the sword, that one is to respect the law, against the historical backdrop of Western Civilization, from the Middle Ages to our Revolutionary War, educated our founding fathers as to the need for the First Amendment. Learning from history, they did not, and would not have written God from the public sector. To do so would run contrary to the lessons of history from which they gleaned, and run afoul of their true belief that liberty must be ordered and that order hinges upon virtue.
It was a religious revival in the 1730s known as the Great Awakening that stirred our founding fathers to fight for their God given inalienable rights. It was also a spiritual resurgence in the nineteenth century that inspired the abolitionists’ drive to end slavery.
Remember that the marching song of the Union Army during the Civil War, The Battle Hymn of the Republic, included the line “as Christ died to make men holy, let us die to make men free.”
It was also a religious revival that led to a seventy year women’s suffrage struggle culminating in the ratification of the 19th Amendment to our Constitution, prohibiting state and federal agencies from adopting gender-based restrictions on voting. And it was a Baptist minister, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who led the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott, founded the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and delivered his, I Have a Dream, speech that lead to civil rights being extended to African Americans.
The impetus behind these virtuous movements throughout the history of America are all found in an underlying Judeo-Christian morality. It is from the Ten Commandments that our system of ordered liberty pulls most strongly, and to turn our backs on that is tantamount to denouncing who we are as a nation.
Now, I am not saying that one must be Christian or Jewish to be an American. Not at all. And I’m also not arguing that there is no morality aside from religious derivation. Rather, I am pointing out the importance of these faiths as they were of paramount inspiration to the declaration of our independence and the penning of our Constitution. In our history lies the answers as to addressing our present and future obstacles as a free and ordered people – as moral Americans.
It is clear that morality has very strong roots in religion: Islam, Christianity, Judaism, etc. These faiths are centered on virtues; teach morality and compassion, the rule of law, and deference to a benevolent, higher power. But the growing intolerance toward the free expression of religious beliefs in the public square, in order to protect the sensibilities of the non-religious, presents a very clear and present danger to the continuation of our society’s moral compass.
Freedom of religion does not mean freedom from religion. “Political correctness,” has run afoul of this understanding, and it has reached a boiling point where attempts to appease those with different or no religious beliefs are now met with an intolerance at law toward the practice of Christianity and Judaism, the religions that serve as the cornerstone of traditional American liberty. That same intolerance is now turned to Islam in the aftermath of 9/11.
We must understand, and understand clearly, that this nation of ours, our system of ordered liberty, the right of every American to live free to pursue happiness, would not have been possible without the lessons of Western Civilization’s history. Their faith in the Ten Commandments and their enduring through religious crusades and tyranny, resulting in a patent understanding of the Lord’s word, form the Judeo-Christian morality out of which our Constitution was written. The United States of America is a nation able to host all the world’s religions, peacefully, where each is free to practice their creed without interference at law or bloodshed, because of the founding father’s historical, cultural, and religious wisdom – that, my fellow Americans, is God’s Manifest Destiny!
And so, while it is not necessary that you be Christian or Jewish to be an American, to be an American, you and your neighbors must be morally grounded. Therefore, it is requisite for our generation to stand up and fight for the true protections our First Amendment was drafted to afford each and every one of us. We must fight to win back our God given right to practice our religion and pronounce our faith in the public square, pushing back every judicial decision and public outcry to circumscribe that most American and first of our affirmed liberties. Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism – all morally grounded faiths are rightfully declared in the public square. The future of our nation depends on it!
The above described understanding as to the role of Judeo-Christian morality as it pertains to our American sense of freedom, and the extent to which we as Americans stay true to those ideals, will be critical in determining the outcome of a number of contemporary political issues facing our nation. This is because the key to prevailing in each issue exists in our American virtues. While this could be said of almost any topic, I am in particular talking about abortion and the war on terrorism.
I will discuss abortion and the war on terrorism in the following two chapters.