Have you ever wondered how much freedom is worth? I believe it is like they say on the television ad: “It is priceless.”
Freedom typically is not valued until it is lost. In other words, we in America take it for granted. If you were to travel to countries where there is no freedom, you might place a different value on our freedom.
The earliest Americans settled here in order to practice their religions. So, the freedom of religion is the bedrock or the Plymouth Rock that drew our ancestors to this land. Americans declared our independence and our freedom to enjoy “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
The First Amendment to our Constitution states: “Congress shall make no law 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 a redress of grievances.”
The Second Amendment provides: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
It is interesting to note that when the first ten amendments were ratified in 1791, these were the first two amendments listed. Some importance and priority may be mined from that fact. Religion and worship of God were very important to our Founding Fathers and the early Freedom Fighters. It was truly a “nation under God.”
After well over 200 years have passed, where are we today? Even though freedom is still priceless, we haven’t had to fight for it recently, so it just doesn’t seem as important to Americans. Certainly, our troops have fought in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan, but these battles on foreign soil have not been embraced by the public as wars to protect our freedom at home. The closest thing to an attack on our soil was on 9/11. However, Americans have returned to their daily routines and the average Joe on the street thinks more about getting a promotion than losing his freedom. It is just not a thought that we have in America.
Yet, we have been losing our freedoms, a little at a time, but losing them all the same. Under the First Amendment, has the federal government prohibited the free exercise of religion and has it abridged our freedoms, including speech and press? Of course it has. And nobody says anything under penalty of being insensitive to atheists, agnostics, and others who disagree with Christianity. America will lose her freedoms when average citizens choose to do nothing about protecting them.
I attended a corporate meeting many years ago with employees providing lengthy briefings on the best course for the company for its future. When the Power Point slides were taken down and the lights came up, the president of the company looked around and asked, “Is there any way I can do nothing?”
If American citizens do nothing, they will lose all of their freedoms. And once you have lost those freedoms, the government will not give them back without a revolution. Unfortunately, many citizens are like the corporate president who wanted to do nothing. They would rather stay under the radar… not make any waves… keep silent… all things which guarantee the loss of their freedoms.
I can remember when Americans were free to say, “Merry Christmas.” Now, it is insensitive to other religions. However, freedom of religion embraces all religions. It does not single out Christianity. In America, you have the freedom to practice any religion. You even have the freedom to not practice a religion. It’s called freedom for a reason. And restricting Christians from honoring the birthday of Jesus would be like restricting the Muslims or Jews from one of their religious holidays.
The first part of the First Amendment that restricts Congress from establishing a religion should not be taken out of context. The primary directive is to not prohibit the free exercise of a religion. Let’s examine the current prohibition on mandatory school prayers. Doesn’t this federal prohibition restrict the exercise of freedom of religion? Of course it does. The argument is that mandatory school prayers establish a religion, Christianity, and interfere with the free exercise of religious beliefs for those who do not believe in prayers.
Let’s get down to basics and common sense. Quite frankly, any time the government acts to protect the free exercise of religion, Christianity or otherwise, it will be assisting in establishing that religion. The framers of our Constitution and Amendments were very focused on freedom of religion and less focused on preventing establishment of a religion, so free exercise of religion should always be the bottom line.
It is true that Thomas Jefferson wanted the church to be walled off against the state in order to protect secular interests, but James Madison wanted to decentralize the federal government, allowing the religions in America to compete without interference by the government.
If we are truly talking about emphasizing freedom of religion in America, then the separation of church and state should mean that the government should stay out the business of religion altogether. This would mean that the government should not restrict any religion, including Christianity.
What is wrong with saying “Merry Christmas”? What is wrong with saying “Happy Hanukah”? What is wrong with “Fast during Ramadan”? All these religions are free to compete within America, no different than businesses. The government should not promote monopolies of religions or businesses. That should be the extent of governmental interference. That should be the extent of our government’s concern about establishing one religion over another.
Let me make this clear. The government does not restrict advertising by businesses just because that company has a bigger budget for marketing. Monopoly busting is when a large company is too big, thus reducing the competition. Monopoly prevention is when two companies are considering a merger and the result would have a substantial cooling effect on competition. I know of no cases where the government has prevented a company from competing through advertising because it would have a bad effect on competition.
It should be no different for religions. Government should not prevent religions from marketing, which includes letting others know about their religious days and practices. This would be a very negative approach to preventing establishment of religions. America is so diverse and independent, it is not likely that we will see religions forming monopolies. Religions are known for just the opposite. They splinter into many different associations, rather than coalescing.
The two provisions in the First Amendment can cancel each other out if you read them literally and out of context. The federal government has removed many of our freedoms, including freedom of religion and right to bear arms, because it is too big and bureaucratic.
What is the solution? Well, it is just common sense as Thomas Paine penned in 1776. The Tenth Amendment of the Constitution provides: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”
This amendment has been abused and ignored, but it tells the federal government to keep out of our state, local, and personal business unless it has a specific power to so intervene. And there are not that many powers specifically granted to the federal government.
The key is to return the government to the people. Citizens should emphasize government at the local levels, where the elected officials actually have a vested interest in their communities. Typically, mayors and council members will do the right thing for their cities because they live in that neighborhood. They may protect their communities for selfish reasons, but this is better than federal politicians who distance themselves from what is going on at the local level. Many don’t care about their constituents, only thinking instead about lining their pockets.
Congress needs to focus the power of the purse on local governments so that we can downsize the federal government and retake our freedoms that were stolen by the feds. This, at least, is the peaceful solution to the current problem. Our freedom is certainly worth doing this.