Religious Freedom, Listed First in the Bill of Rights, For a Reason

Many Americans no longer realize that there was serious opposition to the Constitution when it was first drafted.  Much of the early opposition grew out of a widely felt concern that it lacked specific protections for the liberty and freedom of individual Americans.  These concerns were eventually put to rest by the addition of the Bill of Rights—the first ten amendments to the Constitution.

It is significant that the first freedom protected by the first adopted amendment was religion.  The First Amendment also protects freedom of speech, the press, assembly, and the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances.  But the fact that religion came first demonstrates the importance America’s Constitutional Fathers placed on that foundational belief.

The First Amendment—though brief and to the point—is a powerful statement of freedom and liberty containing some of the most significant words ever written by man.

“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.”

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Yet this brief declaration—clearly written— continues to be one of the most controversial of all of the Constitutional Amendments. Yet ongoing controversy over the First Amendment and religious freedom persists.

The Framers of the Constitution clearly intended to prevent the establishment of a national religion; as was the Church of England, which also was and is headed by the British Monarch.  The Framers feared was an overbearing government requiring them to join and financially support a specific church ruled by the government; something America’s original settlers came here to escape. They were not, as modern-day detractors such as the ACLU now claim, concerned about Americans openly worshipping God or that religion would be part of the very lifeblood of their newly formed nation.

But over the past several decades, freedom OF religion has morphed into freedom FROM religion as atheists and other nonreligious groups have purposefully bent the original intent of the First Amendment to mean that religion in all of its forms—observances, symbols, prayer, songs, monuments, etc.—must be expunged from the public square.  As freedom-from-religion advocates have gained hegemony in the judicial and socio-political arenas, religious groups in America—particularly Christians—have experienced their own religious liberties being suppressed and even denied.  Prayer in schools, at graduations, before ballgames, and before public meetings is constantly challenged by the ACLU and atheist groups. Christian business owners continue to be fined, jailed, and/or lose their livelihoods for failing to violate their religious beliefs. And Christian symbols on public buildings continue to be eradicated.

The so-called “establishment clause” of the First Amendment has been stretched to the breaking point by groups whose purpose is to use the Constitution as a weapon to destroy religious freedom rather than a tool to protect it.

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