HAPPY FREEDOM OF RELIGION DAY!
Today is designated on our American calendar as Freedom of Religion Day commemorating the passage, on January 16th,, 1776 of The Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom, legislation drafted by Thomas Jefferson, that ended the state-established church in Virginia. The purpose of what follows is to further consider the origins of Freedom of Religion Day in terms of context, consequences and conclusions that can and should be drawn.
Again, it is to be remembered that Freedom of Religion Day originated because of the imposition of secular government into areas of human life where secular government has no right to impose its authority; those areas having to do with God-given, natural rights. The imposition of secular authority in Virginia had produced the state-established Anglican Church which led to the persecution of Christians whose beliefs and practices didn’t conform to those of the Anglican Church – persecution that included fining, beating, imprisoning and even execution.
The religious persecution that occurred in Virginia illustrates where government control, whatever the setting, usually if not ultimately, leads. It leads to the affliction of human misery, to the detention, to the death of those deemed not sufficiently in lockstep with the controls established for them by government.
Another thing to remember relative to the origins of Freedom of Religion Day is that it was birthed within the context of Christianity. Historically Judaism was barely visible on America’s religious landscape. Any significance it held in the thinking and legislation that led to Freedom of Religion Day would have been in the relationship it had with Christianity. Hence the term "Judeo-Christian." Certainly, concern for the religious sentiments of North American Indians, Buddhists or Mohammedans, etc. had nothing to do with the thought and events that led up to Freedom of Religion Day. Non-Christian religions have since benefited from the American concept of freedom of religion, but they were never in any way significantly part of the mental equation behind what led to Freedom of Religion Day. Inconvenient truth though it may be to devoted secularists, the historically uninformed and the willfully ignorant, Christianity overwhelmingly predominated in the thought and practices that led to Freedom or Religion Day.
One great consequence of the sentiment regarding freedom of religious conscience expressed in The Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom, of January 16th,, 1776 was the encapsulation of this sentiment into the first amendment to our Constitution on September 25. 1789. Our Bill of Rights begins with the words: “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion … “
By way of clarification: “Religion” to the founders and their contemporaries was synonymous with Christianity when the word was used relative to the life, law and interests of Americans. Samuel Chase, appointed to the Supreme Court by George Washington, wrote in 1799: "By our form of government, the Christian religion is the established religion; and all sects and denominations of Christians are placed upon the same equal footing, and are equally entitled to protection in their religious liberty." Terms such as “the freedom of religion” and “freedom of religious conscience” were used with the Christian religion in mind.
James Madison, on June 7, 1789, introduced the First Amendment in the first session of Congress with the words: "The civil rights of none shall be abridged on account of religious belief or worship." The “religious belief “ Madison had in mind, and the religious belief that the fighters and founders and framers of our nation had in mind as they fought and founded and framed, is a matter of historical documentation that cannot be erased no matter how desperately and deviously today’s text book revisers and revisionists try to do it.
Justice Joseph Story (1779-1845) appointed by James Madison to the Supreme Court, echoed the common understanding of the people of his day as to what was understood by “religion” in his day as it pertained to the First Ammendment. In his Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States he wrote, "The real object of the First Amendment was, not to countenance, much less advance Mohammedanism, or Judaism, or infidelity, by prostrating Christianity; but to exclude all rivalry among Christian sects."
Three years before Joseph Story was born, George Masonn the author of the Virginia Bill of Rights, which served as the basis for the Bill of Rights to our Constitution, made it clear what religion the people of that day were thinking of when they associated religion with American law and life when he wrote:
"Religion, or the duty we owe to our CREATOR, and manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence; and, therefore, that all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience, and that it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love and charity toward each other."
So, in the interest of full disclosure, and, speaking the truth in love:
Happy Freedom of Religion Day!