Freedom of Religion

Protestants from Europe streamed ashore in North America seeking freedom. England had a state church which restricted their freedom of religion. They sailed across treacherous seas and fought the formidable English army in search of such freedom. Overcoming such hazards, they sought to have amendments added to the new Constitution.

To do so James Madison and Baptist minister John Leland opposed each other in the race for a Congressional office. Leland was running ahead of Madison when the two met in Richmond at the corner of what is now Madison and Leland Avenues. Leland offered to withdraw and support Madison if he would assure him he would work to add amendments to the Constitution guaranteeing certain freedoms. Madison’s support for freedom of religion greatly influenced Leland and he agreed to withdraw and support Madison.  Madison, Leland, and Thomas Jefferson formed an alliance known as the “Virginia Experience,” based on their shared passionate belief in religious freedom. With the support of Leland and Jefferson, Madison was elected. Madison saw to it that the following First Amendment was proposed and approved. It reads:

“Congress shall make no laws 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 peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for redress of grievance.”  

Settlers felt these new rights worth the risk of their lives. Not all were devout Christians, but Christian dogma was strong among them and influenced their system of law and the laws themselves. Unfortunately these principals have paled in our current culture.

Given our nation’s history, including the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act that passed the Senate unanimously, some may be surprised to learn that the US does not rank highly on global measures of religious freedom. According to the latest Pew Research Center data, there are 117 countries that place fewer restrictions on religion than the US.

There is even international concern regarding religious freedom. “Religious freedom” is defined in Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion…”

Recently Supreme Court Jurist Samuel Alito, in addressing the Federalist Society, opined regarding the “…assessment of individual rights. This is especially evident with respect to religious liberty. It pains me to say this, but in certain quarters, religious liberty is fast becoming a disfavored right.” He continued, “For many today, religious liberty is not a cherished freedom … it can’t be tolerated, even when there is no evidence that anybody has been harmed.”

Supreme Court Jurist Neil Gorsuch recently observed, “We are also deeply concerned with preserving the promise of the free exercise of religion enshrined in our Constitution,” he wrote, “That guarantee lies at the heart of our pluralistic society.”

The Biden administration is being asked to divest Christian colleges, schools, churches, and Christian organizations of lawful rights if they discriminate.

The right of members of the LBGTQ must under law be valued, (and I do). However, that gives no right to abridge the long held meaning of the First Amendment.

Our predecessors paid a price to gain for us our First Amendment rights. What price are  you willing to pay to maintain it? Get well informed on what is meant by “bigotry” and “discrimination,” and how to defend yourself against such charges that are sure to come.

Remember,  “Congress shall make no laws respecting an establishment of religion….”