Living The Worthy Life: The First Amendment Freedom of Religion Clause
The First Amendment’s Freedom of Religion clause does not mean the separation of Church and State, nor does it mean separation from religion itself. Today, we will look at the three important things that it does mean.
First, what does it say in the First Amendment about religion? There are two things.
The First Amendment’s Religion Clauses
Religious liberty in the United States of America is protected by the two religion clauses found in the first 16 words of the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;” Note, nowhere does it state that there should be a separation of Church and State, In fact, it states that Congress shall pass no law respecting an establishment of religion.
From a historical perspective, please remember that the first clause would allow freedom of religion, not freedom from religion. The second clause prohibits the government from stopping the free exercise of religion. Both of these clauses are very important and have been tested greatly over the past few months. Recently, because of the pandemic, Churches have been closed or not allowed to be open. I ask you to look at the Constitution, look at the First Amendment, does it not say that the government can not prohibit the free exercise of religion? The answer is yes, it does, but some people insist that it is not important. Well, it simply is.
On November 25, 2020, the United States Supreme Court decided Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn v. Cuomo. It marks the first time since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic that the Court has granted an application for injunctive relief by a house of worship, invoking the First Amendment Free Exercise Clause against executive orders meant to curb the spread of COVID-19. In the majority opinion insisted:
“Members of this Court are not public health experts, and we should respect the judgment of those with special expertise and responsibility in this area. But even in a pandemic, the Constitution cannot be put away and forgotten. The restrictions at issue here, by effectively barring many from attending religious services, strike at the very heart of the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious liberty.”
Everson vs. Board of Education
Second, I recently wrote an article entitled, Jesus Was Not A Liberal, Socialist, or Communist. Why Should We Be Any Of Those?. I had several comments saying that this article was too political and that the United States was a place where we should separate Church from State. Brothers and Sisters, both of these comments are wrong. We have been taught by our schools that there is a separation between Church and State. If this is not in the U.S. Constitution, where did it come from?
It came from the majority opinion in the Everson v Board of Education 330 U.S. 1 (1947). Here, Justice Hugo Black writes:
The 'establishment of religion' clause of the First Amendment means at least this: Neither a state nor the Federal Government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws that aid one religion, aid all religions or prefer one religion over another. Neither can force nor influence a person to go to or to remain away from church against his will or force him to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion. No person can be punished for entertaining or professing religious beliefs or disbeliefs, for church attendance or non-attendance. No tax in any amount, large or small, can be levied to support any religious activities or institutions, whatever they may be called, or whatever form they may adopt to teach or practice religion. Neither a state nor the Federal Government can, openly or secretly, participate in the affairs of any religious organizations or groups and vice versa. In the words of Jefferson, the clause against the establishment of religion by law was intended to erect 'a wall of separation between Church and State.' [...] The First Amendment has erected a wall between church and state. That wall must be kept high and impregnable.
Now, compare the Constitutional Rights that were guaranteed by the First Amendment with what Justice Hugo Black wrote. Are they the same, or did this ruling change the Constitution? Do we take the words of Justice (Hugo Black) interpreting the words of a President (Jefferson) from his private letter to the Danbury Ministry Alliance, or do we take our rights in the Constitution? Below is a copy of the letter:
To messers. Nehemiah Dodge, Ephraim Robbins, & Stephen S. Nelson, a committee of the Danbury Baptist association in the state of Connecticut.
The affectionate sentiments of esteem and approbation which you are so good as to express towards me, on behalf of the Danbury Baptist association, give me the highest satisfaction. my duties dictate a faithful and zealous pursuit of the interests of my constituents, & in proportion as they are persuaded of my fidelity to those duties, the discharge of them becomes more and more pleasing.
Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should "make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," thus building a wall of separation between Church & State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation on behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.
I reciprocate your kind prayers for the protection & blessing of the common father and creator of man and tender you for yourselves & your religious association, assurances of my high respect & esteem.
Jan. 1. 1802.
Clearly, Brothers and Sisters, Jefferson was talking about the American people would not be hassled in their religious activities by the government. This is what Jefferson said and meant. The problem is that 145 years later this letter was used as evidence of a wall that was built in the United States that never existed. This wall was established not for the benefit of believers or for the benefit of the people.
We are in a spiritual battle. The forces that stop us from following the true nature of Jesus are strong and are trying to use the government to help out their side. Do not fall for this. Learn the truth yourself. Listen to the following:
"The refusal to take sides on great moral issues is itself a decision. It is a silent acquiescence to evil. The Tragedy of our time is that those who still believe in honesty lack fire and conviction, while those who believe in dishonesty are full of passionate conviction." - Bishop Fulton Sheen
“There are those who hate Christianity and call their hatred an all-embracing love for all religions.” -G.K. Chesterton
"It is an axiom in my mind, that our liberty can never be safe but in the hands of the people themselves, and that too of the people with a certain degree of instruction. This is the business of the State to effect, and on a general plan." - Thomas Jefferson
"The Religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man: and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate." - James Madison
Why is this important to know? All we have to do is look at Bishop Fulton Sheen’s take on this subject when he said:
If you don’t live what you believe, you will end by believing what you live.
Clearly, Brothers and Sisters, we are being tested, the question is will you pass?