Freedom of religion makes the news quite a bit as atheists attempt to stomp out any and all references to God frequently claiming “separation of church and state” as meaning a valedictorian can’t mention God in their commencement speech, or nativity scenes can’t exist in public places, or crosses on hills, or any public display of religion anywhere.
It’s important to understand that opinion only recently came to light; from the inception of the country until recently, the original intent, meaning, and application were quite different. And if anyone knew what the Founders intended, it was the men who wrote it; by studying the early application a picture becomes clear of what the Constitution intended for freedom of religion.
First off, it’s freedom to religion, not freedom from; atheists have it wrong. But how many of them have actually read the first amendment and understand the history?
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.
Simply reading it, two obvious points can’t be missed:
- It concerns Government—specifically Congress.
- It states Congress shall not pass law establishing religion. In other words, a national church.
If you just read the Constitution, you’d never arrive at the absurd conclusion a student couldn’t mention God in their speech, or a state could not have prayer before convening the legislature. Simply put, it’s a restriction on legislation of the Federal government only (14th amendment issues included, it still only applies to legislation, and certainly can’t apply to private citizens).
So how does “Congress” morph into “private citizen”, and “law” change into “any expression” when that clearly isn’t what it says? The prohibition involves law (legislation) only, not expressions, as freedom of religious expression is specifically mentioned not to be prohibited. God in speeches? Fine. Prayer before legislature? Acceptable. Crosses in cemeteries or memorials? Perfectly legitimate. None of those are law establishing a national religion, rather they’re free exercises of religion.
More importantly, would any lawyer or judge with an IQ above single digits arrive at a conclusion the Founders really meant “citizen” when they wrote “Congress”, or “law” really means “expression”? The atheist version of the first amendment reads:
No person shall have any expression of religion in public, and it’s acceptable to prohibit the free exercise thereof…
Turning “Congress” into “citizen” and “law” into “expression” provides the very definition of judicial activism — judges making up what the law clearly doesn’t say. Worse yet, in this case, it’s obvious the Founders (and the Supreme Court until the 1940’s) most definitely would not agree with the “no religion allowed” view of it; that opinion is a relatively recent idea; even in 1952 the Supreme Court acknowledged the founding of United States on religious principles.
We are a religious people whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being. … When the state encourages religious instruction or cooperates with religious authorities by adjusting the schedule of public events to sectarian needs, it follows the best of our traditions. For it then respects the religious nature of our people and accommodates the public service to their spiritual needs. To hold that it may not would be to find in the Constitution a requirement that the government show a callous indifference to religious groups. That would be preferring those who believe in no religion over those who do believe. Zorach v. Clauson, 343 U. S. 306 (1952)
It’s absurd and laughable when some groups attempt to deny the country’s religious foundation1. That can only come from someone who hasn’t studied history, or attempts to rewrite it to suit their view. Even atheist groups2 begin their Supreme Court history on this subject in 1948, simply because it’s a recent opinion.
How the activist interpretation became popular provides an interesting story, but for now understand it’s a very recent theory, beginning in the 1940’s and culminating in the 1960’s to provide the current model of open hostility to religion.
But that’s not what the Founders intended, as even a casual glance at both the Founders, and history until the 1940’s proves abundantly obvious.