God, Bless America…Again
By Daniel L. Gardner
An increasing interest in our Founding Fathers and original documents is one of the good things coming out of bi-polar political debate. I've developed a growing appreciation for these men and their work as I've learned more about circumstances, issues, and contentions of their day.
Take the First Amendment. "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."
This amendment seems to be straightforward, especially considering the context of that day. England in particular and Europe in general had a history of mixing religion and government to such an extent that governments had executed citizens because of their religious beliefs. Many came to America to escape such tyranny.
The point of the First Amendment was government should not establish a state religion or prohibit citizens from exercising their faiths, especially through speaking and writing.
In 1801, Danbury Baptists wrote to Thomas Jefferson raising the issue whether practicing religion were a 'favor' granted by the government or an 'inalienable right.' They wrote in part, "that religion is considered as the first object of legislation; and therefore what religious privileges we enjoy (as a minor part of the state) we enjoy as favors granted, and not as inalienable rights; and these favors we receive at the expense of such degrading acknowledgements as are inconsistent with the rights of freemen."
Jefferson replied, "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, and 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 and state."
Jefferson distinguished between "actions" and expressed "opinions," a distinction clearly missed by jurists adjudicating in favor of ACLU suits claiming "separation" issues in such cases as denying churches the right to rent public school facilities; publicly displaying the Ten Commandments; prohibiting students from praying at graduation ceremonies or football games; threatening fixed income housing project residents with eviction for displaying signs about prayer meetings in their apartment windows; or telling an eight-year-old girl she cannot hand out homemade Valentines that read "Jesus Loves You."
Founding Fathers recognized our Creator (not government) gives all inalienable rights, including freedom to express religious opinions through speech and writing. Good men and women will always fight for God-given freedom to express our opinions without fear of governmental reprisal or interference.
Washington is socializing America, exchanging our freedoms for entitlements. If government power is consolidated and centralized, tyranny will reign. An army of believers is mustering to follow freedoms' pathways blazed by our Fathers.
God, bless America…again.
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