Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Founding Fathers and Freedom

I've seen several messages on the internet this week about the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision.  I've seen messages talking about how our country was founded on the principles of faith, and it got me thinking.


It is true that many of the early settlers moved to America because of religious persecution in their homelands.  In other words, they were seeking religious freedom.  That's not the same thing as our government being centered around faith, is it?

I've seen several messages about our Founding Fathers and their faith, leading me to think back to several classes on American History.  The Revolutionary War was not fought because of religious freedom.  Our citizenry didn't take up arms because they weren't allowed to pray on a certain day or in a particular way.  It wasn't because they were required to follow a certain faith.  Our ancestors went to war against a government that was denying them basic freedoms and liberties without representation or redress.  After that war, visionary leaders created a new creating a document.  Our country was founded on the Constitution.

If you haven't read the original US Constitution lately, now might be a good opportunity.  It spells out the powers and responsibilities of our government.  It details the printing of money, recognition of interstate contracts, and a myriad of other considerations necessary to run a country.  Funniest thing, though: the words "faith" and "religion" do not appear in it.  Nope, not once!  There is also no mention of God, god, G-d, or any other deity. 

How is that our Founding Fathers, who were supposedly driven by their faith and a profound deference to religion, failed to mention that fact in the cornerstone document of our democracy?  It wasn't added until the First Amendment was ratified as part of the Bill of Rights.  If protecting religion, and Christianity in particular, were really their intent, why did they not actually address it?

The wording of the First Amendment is also important.  Most people describe the First Amendment by saying it protects religion, or the freedom of religion.  While that description is not necessarily wrong, it's also not necessarily right.  It's not the whole picture, and doesn't address the first part of the amendment.  "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

It's important to note that our Founding Fathers quickly realized that church and state did not and should not mix.  They didn't start by protecting the freedom OF religion, they started by protecting freedom FROM religion.  They placed more importance on that, rather than the free exercise of religion.  Religion didn't even get it's own amendment.  The amendment goes on to protect the freedoms of speech, press, peaceable assembly, and redress of grievances against the government.

So there you have it.  Our country was founded on representative government.  Democracy.  Individual liberty.  It was not founded on faith.  Religion and spirituality will always play an important role in our society; they can bring together the best in people.  Unfortunately, it also brings out the worst in us sometimes.  As we continue to discuss civil rights let's remember that religious freedom is an important individual right in our society, one that we must all protect.  However, it is not the overarching foundation of our country, nor it should it be protected at the exclusion of other rights. 

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