Freedoms of Religion and Speech

The American Constitution makes freedoms of religion and speech a number one priority in the Bill of Rights.  The First Amendment to the Constitution states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech…”

The references to freedom of religion are commonly referred to as the “establishment clause” and the “free exercise” clause.  Both of these clauses have been expanded to apply to state and local governments by separate Supreme Court decisions.  Even though the Founding Fathers clearly were concerned about the federal government and not local governments, both the state and local government now also contribute to restricting religious freedom.  Justice Clarence Thomas has correctly argued that the Court was wrong in extending these clauses to the state and local governments.

The rights of the states were significantly curtailed after the Civil War, probably in violation of the Tenth Amendment, which some would say has been emasculated by the Supreme Court.  James Madison wrote in the Federalist Papers # 45:  “The powers delegated by the proposed Constitution to the federal government are few and defined.  Those which remain in the State governments are numerous and indefinite.”  Madison went on to say that one of the powers definitely reserved to the states was our liberty.  This includes both the freedom of religion and speech.  In effect, Madison was saying that the federal government has no power to interfere with religious liberty.  The First Amendment does nothing more than tell Congress to stay away from religion.

Thomas Jefferson said that there should be a wall separating church and state.  Jefferson was interested in walling off the church from the state in order to protect secular interests.  On the other hand, Roger Williams, an English Protestant theologian from Rhode Island who was an early proponent of religious freedom, believed that religion should be protected by a “sturdy fence” from the secular segment.  Both sides wanted the same thing:  to keep the federal government separated from religion.  Thus, freedom of religion and speech were both guaranteed by the Constitution, and they walk together hand-in-hand as our most important liberties.

The Founding Fathers agreed that government and religion do not mix any better than oil or water.  So, they decided that Congress should neither establish nor interfere with religion.  In other words, there should be a separation of church and state for purposes of preventing the federal government from either taking positive action for or negative action against a religion.  In effect, our government should have a “hands off” policy regarding religion and religious rights.

The only legitimate concern for the Supreme Court is determining what religion is.  The Court generally attempts to avoid formulating a definition, skirting its real job.  Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Taosim, Shinto, and other well formulated religions are accepted as world religions.  This is not to say that it will be an easy job determining what religion is, but it is what the Court should be focusing on rather than how it can interfere with religions by using the establishment clause.

How has the Founding Father’s clear message been misconstrued so that our government not only interferes with the beliefs of Christians, but many times goes out of its way in an effort to destroy these religious rights?  There is nothing in the First Amendment that gives the government the right to discriminate or harm Christianity, or any other religion for that matter.  A hands-off policy means “hands off.”  The Founding Fathers did not want the federal government to have anything to do with religion, because they wanted to steer clear of the religious persecution practiced by the English government.

If the government were to create a religion and compel participation, this would violate both provisions.  But the confusion occurred when Supreme Court decisions parsed these two provisions and focused on the establishment clause.  For example, if the government provides for chaplains in the military, this was argued to be the government establishing religion.  However, if the government tells military chaplains what they can and cannot say, it is denying the free exercise of religion and speech under the guise of the “establishment clause.”

In the Supreme Court case of Lemon v. Kurtzman, the government violates the establishment clause if the government’s primary purpose is to advance religion or if the principal effect is to aid or inhibit religion.  This makes no sense because the primary purpose of the government is to advance religion every time it acts to protect the free exercise of religion.  The Supreme Court has recognized this friction between the two clauses, but the problem is that the two clauses should have been interpreted together and not separately.

If you examine both clauses, they both refer to religion.  In Everson v. Board of Education, Justice Wiley Rutledge wrote in his dissenting opinion: “’Religion’ appears only once in the Amendment.  But the word governs two prohibitions and governs them alike.  It does not have two meanings, one narrow to forbid ‘an establishment’ and another, much broader, for ‘securing’ the free exercise thereof.”

The Constitution includes both clauses as being consistent with each other, so that the message is for Congress to stay clear of passing any laws or taking any action that would impact religion by either establishing it or prohibiting its free exercise.  In effect, don’t do either one, but the bottom line is to not infringe on our freedom of religion.  Both freedom of religion and speech are the trump cards in the First Amendment which sometimes are overlooked by the Supreme Court.

In the above example of military chaplains, the government is not establishing a religion even under the Lemon case, because its primary purpose is not to advance religion.  The primary purpose is to provide faith based support for our troops who are in harm’s way.  By removing the chaplains or restricting what they can preach to our military is definitely a denial of America’s freedom of religion and speech.

When I was in grade school, we had our morning prayer and a short Bible verse.  This is not permitted anymore.  And “Merry Christmas” has been replaced in federal offices with “Happy Holidays.”  This is a governmental hands-on policy with a strangle hold around the neck of Christianity.  The federal government’s actions are clearly a violation of the Constitution because these actions prohibit the free exercise of religion and speech.  If I am a Christian, I can practice my belief anywhere I want, even in federal buildings and at federal functions.

Americans fought and died for their freedoms of religion and speech.  Many early Americans left England because they were persecuted for their beliefs and speech.  Today, we are losing our freedoms of religion and speech without a shot being fired.  Our government is taking away our freedoms a piece at a time, and few seem to care.

If you don’t fight for what you believe and if you don’t fight for your faith, then you deserve to lose it.  But why would our government want to take away our beliefs, faith, religion, and speech?  Well, if you want to form a worldwide totalitarian government, you need to neutralize religions and speech.  How do you do this?  You get the different segments in a majority to turn on each other.  And you stifle speech by making the majority embarrassed about being a member of the majority.  Did you ever think that you would be embarrassed to tell people that you believe in God and that you enjoy working for a living and that you don’t need anything else beyond having a loving family?  How sad that this is now considered “nerdy” or even worse.

If Muslims, Jews, and Christians enter into a religious war or jihad, this would create a vacuum for potential worldwide domination that could be filled by totalitarian leaders.  How does a minority control the majority of the world?  A minority can control when the majority is at odds with each other and is too embarrassed to say anything.  A majority that is divided becomes weak minorities.  That is how Hussein ruled Iraq with his minority Baath party.  The Sunnis, Shiites, and Kurds could not agree on anything.  Divide and conquer.  If all the religions in the world hate each other and are trying to kill each other off, this would be a perfect environment for a totalitarian government.

Think about it.