By: Marie Ecrivain / Contributing AOJ journalist
More often in the news are stories about removing religious references from virtually everything. That is not what the first amendment of the Bill of Rights in the US Constitution reads. It reads as follows: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; essentially Congress cannot choose a preferred religion for the country nor may it pass any laws prohibiting its citizenry from exercising their religious beliefs. Forcing no religion is preventing Americans of their guaranteed rights protected in the constitution. It appears that any religious overtones are considered offensive and attacked where the purpose of the constitution was to protect US citizens rights to practice their religion in peace. This religious persecution is the epitome of Anti-America behavior.
History of religious persecution
Looking at the history of the United States shows the evolution of the importance of religion and freedom to practice one’s religion. Many who traveled to the colonies (prior to the United States becoming an independent nation) came so they could practice their religion with out being persecuted. Many colonists were fervent in their religious beliefs and were aggressive in spreading their religious beliefs to all. In addition, many settlers left Europe because of the religious persecutions and desired the ability to practice their beliefs as they saw fit. As the states were forming and governments being established many states with predominate religions implemented many laws about the religious affiliation and one’s ability to serve in government. While this was occurring in certain states the Bill of Rights was being worked on. Subsequently the Bill of Rights was ratified by all the states. This is not to say that the US has been perfect in its religious tolerance and freedom but it is a country that has always had strong advocates and dedication to the free exercise of religion. There is no country established religion nor has the US government forced any one religion to be adhered to by all.
The Constitution and Religion
Article 6 in the US constitution also prohibits any religious test for office. Its states the following: The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States. In other words, the constitution recognizes that religious intolerance was possible. In order to prevent religious preference or persecution no person willing and elected to serve will not be questioned nor denied the ability to serve their country office because of their religious affiliation. The Bill of Rights as previously stated in this article addresses Religion in the US. This Right is often misinterpreted to mean no religion in the US where it means the exact opposite. It means that all religious practices should be respected and tolerated. Congress can not pass a country religion for all Americans to practice. This assertion has been bastardized over time by some to mean there can be no reference to any religious items or meanings by any government entity. This was not the intent of the first amendment and is not what it reads but alas it has evolved overtime to take on a different meaning. In doing so the US citizenry’s free exercise of their religion has been slowly eroded and taken away.
Federal and States Laws Passed concerning Freedom of Religion.
Congress passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. This Law essentially sought to allow government employees to practice their religion within a frame work that is as easy as possible to accomplish. The original law was passed to apply to all of the US but it was ruled that federal law in this manner can not be applied to state governments. Subsequently 21 states passed similar laws: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Florida, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia.
Religious Freedoms in America
As the religious beliefs in the United States diversified the concept of the constitution was to provide a means to maintain religious freedom. Religious freedom not religious stifling. A cultural shift has been occurring in the United States. That shift in perception is freedom from religion rather than freedom of religion. This is a direct assault on one of the principal items of importance in the constitution. This could be a turning point in the United States. The purpose of freedom of religion is important to the United States and the systemic removal of religion from America’s way of life by virtue of it’s offensive to other persons of no religion is foundationally wrong on all merits. Forcing religious groups to ignore parts of their teachings because the government has a passed a law making it required is in essence in violation of the purpose of the first amendment. Americans should think about the path religious tolerance is on as who knows where this may lead.