Religious Freedom

In the entire later half of the 20th century, Christianity has been under attack in America. Some of these attacks have manifested themselves as restrictions on the display of the Ten Commandments in schools and other public places, erecting Christian crosses on public property in memory of lost loved ones, displaying nativity scenes during the Christmas season, or individual public expressions of Christianity such as school teachers giving a “glance at inspirational Bible verses between classes.”[1]

In each case of public displays of Christianity, the alleged law-breakers have the same things in common: they are not Congress, they are not making a law, they are not establishing a religion, and they are not restricting the free exercise of religion. To the contrary, they are all doing exactly what the First Amendment protects their right to do.

We the people have this right on private and public property, because there is no clause in the Constitution, or any of the founding documents, which mandates the separation of church and state. Most importantly, there never can be a law restricting private or public displays of Christianity since Congress, who has been delegated all legislative powers from Article I Section 1 clause 1, has been restricted from doing so by the same two clauses the 20th century Federal courts have been inappropriately using to restrict individual religious freedom.

To better understand this point, one does not need to spend hours researching obscure case histories on how the Federal courts have interpreted the Establishment and Free Exercise clauses over the years; they need only read them for themselves directly out of the Constitution. It simply states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” It is difficult to understand how anyone could misinterpret these two clauses to mean anything other than Congress cannot make any law to establish a national religion or restrict people from exercising their religion.

The Founding Fathers wrote these two clauses to protect Christianity, not to subvert it, and these clauses are absolute. Congress cannot make any law restricting a person’s right to the free exercise of Christianity, regardless of where they are exercising it.

It is ironic that many people today are trying to restrict or eradicate the religion that made America possible and upon which America was established.[2] This endeavor is completely unpatriotic according to the one man most responsible for establishing America as a nation. In his farewell address, George Washington stated: “Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism, who should labour to subvert these great Pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of Men & citizens.”[3] (underlining mine)

Those who are seeking to limit or abolish public displays of Christianity claim that in each case the government is supporting and promoting religion, which detractors see as an establishment of religion. They claim that by the government allowing individuals to express their Christian views on government property through words or symbols, it is actually the government expressing religiosity, which to them constitutes an establishment of religion. Their understanding is patently false, endorsing or supporting Christian views is not the same as Congress passing a law to prescribe a particular Christian denomination as a national religion to which everyone in the United States must belong. The Establishment clause was written to prohibit Congress from mandating a national Christian denomination and not to restrict individual expressions of Christianity in public.

While the Founding Fathers were aware of many other world religions, their focus, with regards to legislation, was on Christianity, but not any one specific form of Christianity. The thirteen colonies had endorsed different Christian denominations that they transferred into Statehood; to keep peace among the States, the Founders restricted Congress from giving deference to one form of Christianity over another. Although, the Founding Fathers collectively recognized the validity of Christianity, they did not want to mandate one specific understanding of it over another like England had done, which was the reason for which most of their ancestors fled to America in the 17th century.

Some may argue that neither the 1st Amendment nor George Washington meant ‘Christianity’ by the use of the term ‘religion’, but such a claim is both short sited and disingenuous. It is customary, even today, for people to communicate using generic terms when a common understanding of the generic term is universally understood. This is why neither Congress nor Washington used the term ‘Christianity’ when that is precisely their intended meaning of ‘religion’ in both cases.

With the exception of Judaism, from which Christianity was derived, Christianity was nearly universal among the citizens of America during its founding. Of the approximately three million Americans living during the founding era over 97% of them were Protestant Christian with the remaining being Catholics and Jews. Additionally, nearly all the constitutional convention delegates were Protestant Christians except for Charles Carroll, who was Catholic. Finally, the Congress that approved the Bill of Rights, of which the Establishment and Free Exercise clauses are a part, also approved funding for Christian chaplains in both the United States House and Senate, so separation of church and state, as we know it today, was not their intended meaning of the two clauses.

Skeptics can find further evidence to the intended meaning of ‘religion’ in a letter Washington wrote to Colonel Benedict Arnold in September 1775, prior to the latter’s defection, in which Washington used the word ‘Religion’ to reference the accepted beliefs of Canadian citizens, which was Catholicism.

“…I also give it in Charge to you to avoid all Disrespect to or Contempt of the Religion of the Country and its Ceremonies. Prudence, Policy, and a true Christian Spirit, will lead us to look with Compassion upon their Errors without insulting them…God alone is the Judge of the Hearts of Men…”[4] (underlining mine)

In this short quote, skeptics should notice Washington uses the generic term ‘Religion’ in reference to the predominant belief system of Canada. He uses the term ‘Religion’ in the same manner when referring to America in his farewell address. Additionally, his statement about “a true Christian Spirit” can only mean that both he and the principles for which he was fighting were Protestant Christian. This is deduced from the fact that Christianity, in Washington’s day, was mainly between two camps, Catholic and Protestant. Since he was warning against demeaning Catholicism it is only logical to conclude Washington was a Protestant Christian.

In another quote, Washington uses both ‘Religion’ and ‘Christian’ in the same paragraph and context. On May 2, 1778, at Valley Forge he told his men that it was even more glorious to be a Christian than to be a patriot.

“While we are zealously performing the duties of good Citizens and soldiers we certainly ought not to be inattentive to the higher duties of Religion. To the distinguished Character of Patriot, it should be our highest Glory to add the more distinguished Character of Christian.”[5] (underlining mine)

This quote speaks for itself and casts light on what Washington meant when he wrote ‘Religion’ in his farewell address. For those who do not find this conclusive they need to keep an open mind and research the mountain of evidence that further indicates Christianity was the common denominator among most American citizens throughout the founding era.

Likewise, it is no coincidence that the Establishment and Free Exercise clauses are the first two clauses of the 1st Amendment out of the ten amendments that make up the Bill of Rights. Christianity was so important to the citizens of the States that the first two clauses in the Bill of Rights prohibited the newly instituted federal government from making any law that would establish a specific Christian denomination as the national religion or infringe on an individual’s right to exercise their Christian denomination.

Christianity is the religion upon which America was founded and it is time for Americans to stop giving in to legalistic bullying from a minuscule portion of our society who misrepresents the law. We need to stand up to any individual or group, private or public, that wants to misuse the Establishment and Free Exercise clauses to take away the freedom they were written to protect.

[1] School Board, Cheektowaga Central High School, Buffalo, NY, Letter to Joelle Silver.

[2] American Founding Principles, Is Religion the Foundation of Justice and Law?, September 3, 2012.

[3] George Washington, Farewell Address, p. 20.

[4] John Clement Fitzpatrick, ed., The Writings of George Washington, from the Original Manuscript Sources 1749-1799, vol. 3, 9-14-1775.

[5] Benson J. Lossing, The Pictorial Field-Book of the Revolution (1886), vol. II, p. 140.


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