December 24, 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.
Freedom of Religion Part 2
First: A correction to last
week's article. (This is what happens when I don't read all the references in my sources!) I wrote
“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, 6 colonies actively followed state religions and all 13 colonies had state religions in their
laws.” That was incorrect. Eight of the colonies' charters named official religions (either Anglican/Church of England or Congregational
Church). Six appear to have still had official state religions when the Constitution was written. The remaining colonies' charters and laws referred to “Protestant” or “Christian” religions – not a specific religion.
In last week's article I explained how the idea of religious freedom did not exist throughout most of history. True religious freedom still didn't exist even at the time of the first Continental Congress in 1774. The Founding Fathers, as well as the vast majority of the people in the colonies, were very religious. The delegates, who came from 12 of the 13 colonies, argued among themselves as to who's prayers should be used to seek divine guidance and protection. It was Samuel Adams' statement, that he would hear a prayer from anyone who was of piety and good character as long as he was a patriot, that helped to change the mindset of the delegates. That statement helped to refocus the delegates on the values held in common rather than on specific differences and dogmas.
In refocusing on the beliefs held in common by most major religions, they recognized that these common beliefs were also present in Natural Law. Natural Law is a view that certain rights or values are inherent in and universally knowable by virtue of human reason. Natural Law refers to the use of reason to analyze human nature along with man's relations with things and deduce binding rules of moral behavior.
Natural Law was not a new concept to the Founders. It is a cornerstone of English Common Law and had been written about in various forms since the time of Plato. As educated and well read men, the Founders were familiar with it. The genius breakthrough was in realizing the common morals and values that are shared by both natural law and the morals, standards and principles shared by most religions. The Founders saw the foundation of civil and religious liberty in the doctrine of Natural Law. This realization meant that America did not need to have a common theology ordered by the government. Instead, it could depend on a common morality shared by all the people and rooted in both faith and reason.
There are modern historians who claim that the Founders were not really religious, that they were deists. Deists believe that reason and observation of the natural world can determine that the universe is the product of an all-powerful creator without the need for organized religion. Deists further believe that the creator does not intervene in human affairs. One only has to read the Founders letters, documents, speeches and published articles to know that this is not accurate. There were a few deists among the Founding Fathers but the vast majority of them belonged to, practiced and believed in specific religions. They often expressed their belief in divine intervention. It is to their credit that they could abandon the destructive course of history with it's religious persecution and create a country in which there could be true religious freedom.
The Founders had a strong sense that faith and freedom were strongly interconnected and inseparable. They saw the foundation of civil and religious liberty in the doctrine of equal natural rights (Natural Law) and that the legitimate exercise of those rights must remain in accord with the larger moral order that originated those rights (“Nature's God”). The new foundation for political sovereignty was that all men are created equal, endowed with equal rights by nature and that legitimate government is based on the consent of those governed.
They established true religious freedom where each person has “liberty of conscience”. That means that each individual may practice whatever faith he chooses as long as that practice does not violate the “immutable law of nature” or the common moral order. They drew a line between religious doctrine and lawmaking. The particular dogmas, forms of worship and church governance of the various religions were not to be determined in the political realm. The law would not define the doctrines of religious faith nor take sides in sectarian disagreements. Similarly, religious doctrine would not determine the laws.
This official separation of church doctrine and the new federal government was not meant nor intended to separate religion and politics, nor to remove religion from public life. In fact, the Founders greatly encouraged the practice of religion. They recognized religious practice as the training for leading a moral life and developing good character. They were creating a limited government which emphasized individual liberty. The individual would self-rule, both good character and moral behavior would be required in order for the new government to survive.
The First Amendment (“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise
thereof...”) contains both the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause. They are both needed to have religious freedom, just like you need two sides of a coin. The Establishment Clause prevents the Federal Government from establishing a national religion and also prevents it from disestablishing any of the new states' religions. (Remember
that six states still had government established churches.) The Free Exercise Clause safeguards the individual's freedom to believe and to practice one's religious faith as a matter of right without coercion or obstruction. This right being limited
only by the common morality or law. (i.e. Human sacrifice is not allowed no matter what religion.) Considering religious
Freedom as a natural right and protecting it was one of the great achievements of the Founding Fathers.