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Marie Lozito


December 17, 2011

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. 

 

The Freedom of Religion Part 1

The First Amendment of the Bill of Rights says, “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 to peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” In order to understand just what the Founding Fathers were trying to accomplish, we need to know a bit of history.

From the earliest times, religion and politics had a difficult relationship with individual beliefs. The religion practiced depended upon who was in power politically, what the individual believed did not matter. Those who did not comply with the politically established religion were persecuted or killed. The laws were considered to be from the gods that the rulers forced the people to worship. Since the political rulers had the laws from their own gods, there was little conflict between the political and religious aspects of life. Whenever the rulers lost a war, the new rulers with their own gods and laws would come into power and the people would have to change their practices. 

Judaism was the first religion to worship only one God. Frequently conquered by pagan kings, the Jewish people suffered greatly because they would not accept the various pagan gods and considered the law of their one God as superior to the political laws of the pagan gods. The birth of Christianity created even more conflict between religion, politics and the individual.

Not only did Christianity worship one supreme God, it was the first religion that did not identify a particular ethnic community or polity. As Christianity spread through Europe, the mid-east and Africa the problem of where a person's first duty rested became a huge conflict – did it rest in the realm of God or the realm of mankind?

During medieval times, this uneasy situation was handled by the doctrine of “two swords”. The political leaders would be in charge of police and military matters for the earthly benefit of their subjects. The religious leaders would determine the spiritual and otherworldly matters of the community – including the rulers. Religious leaders were influenced, bribed, threatened, jailed, etc. by the political rulers in order to have their “cooperation”. Political leaders were threatened by the religious leaders with excommunication. Excommunication removed the obligation of loyalty to the ruler from the Catholics. The “divine right of kings”, claiming that the monarch was ordained to rule as God's surrogate on earth, was developed to protect the political rulers from the Catholic Church's supremacy over the rulers. The religious corruption and growing religious-political tensions inspired the reformation of Christianity. The reformation produced several different protestant religions. All of these were Christian religions that were free from the control of the Catholic Church.

There was still no religious freedom for the individual. What you thought or believed did not matter. If the king was Anglican, you had to be Anglican. If the king was Catholic, you had to be Catholic. It was just like in the days of the pagan gods – the ruler determined what religion you were to be. If you did not comply with the ordered religion you were persecuted. Each ruling religion would try to forcefully convert, or eliminate, other believers in the same nation. This caused the displacement of populations as they moved from country to country in search of communities that would accept their form of faith. During the sixteenth century England had seen some of the worst religious persecution. Long suffering religious communities began looking across the Atlantic Ocean toward empty lands where they could worship God as they wished without fear of persecution and oppression.

Groups from several churches immigrated to America in order to escape the religious persecution in Europe. Like the different countries in Europe, the colonies had state-established religions. Even at the time the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were written, six colonies actively followed state religions and all 13 colonies had state religions in their laws.

In the fall of 1774, as the first Continental Congress convened, it was suggested that the Congress pray for divine guidance and protection. This was discussed, then debated as the different members disagreed about who's prayers should be used. Eventually, Samuel Adams stood and said he would hear a prayer from anyone of piety and good character as long as he was a patriot. He made the delegates realize that they should focus on what they held in common rather than focus on their many differences. The Founders realized that there are general moral precepts that are understandable by human reasoning which are also agreeable to the divine revelation of most faiths. This morality, common to both natural reason and divine revelation, was called “natural law” or “natural theology”. Natural law became one of the grounding principles of the American Founding.

There was a general understanding of natural laws and a belief that all people can understand these laws and should obey them. James Wilson wrote “The law of nature is immutable; not by the effect of an arbitrary disposition, but because it has its foundation in the nature, constitution, and mutual relations of men and things.” Thomas Jefferson wrote that the people, who are the source of all lawful authority, “are inherently independent of all but the moral law.” 

In a nation with a limited central government such as the Founders were creating, good moral character and virtue would be needed. The Founders realized that the American Republic needed to depend on a common morality shared by all the people and that morality needed to be universal and based on both reason and faith. Religion was believed to be the greatest source for the standards and morals needed. The practice of religion was believed to provide the training for good moral character and behavior.

Indeed during the founding era, the congresses appointed chaplains, attended religious services, endorsed the first English translation bible to be published in North America, and explained in generalized religious language the righteousness of their cause to the American people. The Founders had a strong sense that faith and freedom were strongly interconnected and inseparable. Thomas Jefferson wrote, “The God who gave us life, gave us liberty at the same time. The hand of force may destroy, but cannot disjoin them.” 

 

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