January 2, 2012
Marie Lozito is a Registered Nurse, Licensed Massage Therapist, wife, mother, grandmother and life-long conservative. She wrote a text on medical massage and taught at New York College of Health Professions.
Interested in, and observing politics since 1960, she
ran for elected office in 2010.
Freedom of Religion part 3
So, we have seen how the Founding Fathers developed a practical solution to the problem of conflict between religion, politics and an individual's conscience. The individual could worship as he wished as long as he respected the rule of law and participated in the shared responsibility of citizenship. This was a great achievement for several reasons, just a few would be:
It prevented the problem of government-sponsored religious persecution in America;
It established that our rights come from “Laws of Nature and Nature's God” - therefore are not an arbitrary gift from government which can be taken away by government;
It acknowledged the common area where reason and faith agree, thus establishing common standards of right and wrong required to guide both private and public life in a republican government;
It protected religious believers' right to keep their sacred obligations of faith. A duty the Founders took most seriously.
"It is the duty of all men in society, publicly, and at stated seasons, to worship the SUPREME BEING, the great Creator and Preserver of the universe. And no subject shall be hurt, molested, or restrained, in his person, liberty, or estate, for worshiping GOD in the manner most agreeable to the dictates of his own conscience; or for his religious profession or sentiments; provided he doth not disturb the public peace, or obstruct others in their religious worship."
-John Adams, Thoughts on Government, 1776
“The belief in a God All Powerful wise and good, is so essential to the moral order of the world and to the happiness of man, that arguments which enforce it cannot be drawn from too many sources nor adapted with too much solicitude to the different characters and capacities impressed with it."
-James Madison, letter to Frederick Beasley, 1825
"And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God? "
-Thomas Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia, Query 18, 1781
You can see that from
its colonization in 17th century, through its revolution and founding in the 18th century and well into the 20th century, America was a religious country. The majority of citizens believed and practiced many different religions but shared the common morality that exists between faith and reason. Congresses and presidents all encouraged the practice of religion and valued the training in morals and virtue that religious practice created. (Before anyone writes to me about this, I know full well that not everyone was, or is, moral and virtuous.
We are all only human, but how we are raised strongly affects our behavior as youths and adults. Being raised with the “common morals” of Natural Law and religious revelation has a strong positive effect on a person's behavior. I was raised a Catholic and believe me, if everyone tried to obey the Ten Commandments this world would be a much nicer place!)
Thomas Jefferson was elected president and took office in 1801. The Baptists were elated about this. Jefferson had previously championed the rights of Baptists in Virginia and also advocated clear limits on the centralization of government powers. During the colonial period the Baptists in Rhode Island had often suffered from the centralization of power and the discrimination that brought on them. The Danbury Baptists wrote a congratulatory letter to President Jefferson. In that letter they also expressed concern over the First Amendment. They were afraid that the wording might be construed to mean that the right was government- given and not an inalienable right given by God.
President Jefferson understood their fears. He frequently made it clear in his writings that the federal government had absolutely no power to limit, regulate, restrict or interfere with religious expression.
He wrote back to them that they need not fear because the free exercise of religion would never be interfered with by the government. He wrote,
“... 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. …” He also used the phrase “natural rights” in the letter when referring to the freedom of religion – a phrase seldom understood today but well understood at that time to mean God given and inalienable rights. The intent of Jefferson's letter was clear to the Baptists and to the early courts in America. The government only had the right to interfere when the actions violated the common morality or rule of law.
In the case Reynolds v. United States, 1878, the court published a lengthy section of Jefferson's letter and determined that Jefferson's intent for “separation of church and state” was that “the rightful purposes of civil government are for its officers to interfere when principles break out into overt acts against peace and good order. In this...is found the true distinction between what properly belongs to the church and what to the State.”
That court, and others, identified actions, which even if done in the name of religion, should and would be stopped by government since they would be “overt acts against peace and good order.” Activities in which the government did have a legitimate reason to intrude included human sacrifice, polygamy, bigamy, concubinage, incest, infanticide, parrocide, advocation and promotion of immorality and similar acts. These earlier courts clearly understood
that the “wall of separation” was never meant to stop actions such as public prayer or reading of the scriptures.