In the 1700s, men and women began to flock to the English colonies from Europe to escape among other things, religious persecution. This religious persecution was primarily based on state (or king) sponsored abuses inflicted on people who did not conform to the state-sponsored religion. Most of these abuses were criminal sanctions including death.
The mass exodus from Europe included mostly Protestants. However, independent minded people of many sects of Christianity and other religions came to America seeking religious freedom as well.
As our Founders were debating and drafting the Constitution, they included what is known as The Establishment Clause. This Clause basically provides that the United States government is prohibited from formally establishing a particular religion that the people are required by law to adhere to.
The Establishment Clause was placed in the Constitution for obvious reasons at the time. Our country was based on religious freedom and our Founders knew what it was like to live under state-sponsored religion.
Our Founders also had the foresight to see dangers in future countries that could use state-sponsored religion to terrorize their people. Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Malaysia are some recent examples. Conversion to Christianity in Iran can carry a death sentence.
As time has passed and Supreme Court Justices have come and gone, the Establishment Clause has been grossly misinterpreted from its original meaning. Over the past few decades, the legal fiction called “separation of church and state” has become a household name. It seems to have taken the place of the Establishment Clause in conversation about religious issues in the political realm.
As I have said in another column, the phrase “separation of church and state” is not found in the United States Constitution. It is simply a concept created by people who wish to have religious organizations banned from participation in any type of government activity.
The examples of this are numerous. They range from the President’s recent discrimination against the Catholic Church to groups trying to force pharmacists to fill prescriptions that conflict with the pharmacist’s religious beliefs.
You will also find some members of Congress voting against providing funding for organizations because they are somewhat religiously oriented. We even have citizens who have asked the courts to remove the phrase “under God” in the pledge of allegiance. This happens despite the term “God” does not reference any particular religion.
In 1776, our people wanted to create this nation without the establishment of a state religion. Unfortunately, over the years, litigants and federal courts have completely misinterpreted the original intent of the Establishment Clause. We now have a rapidly growing secularized society that seeks to restrict religious freedom rather than protect it. This is particularly true when Christian organizations are involved.
As President Ronald Reagan said, “We are the last bastion of freedom in the world.” The Gipper is long gone, but he was right. If freedom does not survive in the United States, it will not thrive anywhere else in the world.