Happy Religious Freedom Day

January 16, the anniversary of the adoption of a law, written by Thomas Jefferson and guided to adoption by James Madison, separating Church and State in Virginia. The template for the First Amendment protection of religion:

An Act for establishing religious Freedom

Whereas, Almighty God hath created the mind free; that all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burthens, or by civil incapacitations tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and are a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, who being Lord, both of body and mind yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as was in his Almighty power to do, that the impious presumption of legislators and rulers, civil as well as ecclesiastical, who, being themselves but fallible and uninspired men have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavouring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world and through all time; that to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves is sinful and tyrannical; that even the forcing him to support this or that teacher of his own religious persuasion is depriving him of the comfortable liberty of giving his contributions to the particular pastor, whose morals he would make his pattern, and whose powers he feels most persuasive to righteousness, and is withdrawing from the Ministry those temporary rewards, which, proceeding from an approbation of their personal conduct are an additional incitement to earnest and unremitting labours for the instruction of mankind; that our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions any more than our opinions in physics or geometry, that therefore the proscribing any citizen as unworthy the public confidence, by laying upon him an incapacity of being called to offices of trust and emolument, unless he profess or renounce this or that religious opinion, is depriving him injuriously of those privileges and advantages, to which, in common with his fellow citizens, he has a natural right, that it tends only to corrupt the principles of that very Religion it is meant to encourage, by bribing with a monopoly of worldly honours and emoluments those who will externally profess and conform to it; that though indeed, these are criminal who do not withstand such temptation, yet neither are those innocent who lay the bait in their way; that to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles on supposition of their ill tendency is a dangerous fallacy which at once destroys all religious liberty because he being of course judge of that tendency will make his opinions the rule of judgment and approve or condemn the sentiments of others only as they shall square with or differ from his own; that it is time enough for the rightful purposes of civil government, for its officers to interfere when principles break out into overt acts against peace and good order; and finally, that Truth is great, and will prevail if left to herself, that she is the proper and sufficient antagonist to error, and has nothing to fear from the conflict, unless by human interposition disarmed of her natural weapons free argument and debate, errors ceasing to be dangerous when it is permitted freely to contradict them: Be it enacted by General Assembly that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of Religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge or affect their civil capacities. And though we well know that this Assembly elected by the people for the ordinary purposes of Legislation only, have no power to restrain the acts of succeeding Assemblies constituted with powers equal to our own, and that therefore to declare this act irrevocable would be of no effect in law; yet we are free to declare, and do declare that the rights hereby asserted, are of the natural rights of mankind, and that if any act shall be hereafter passed to repeal the present or to narrow its operation, such act will be an infringement of natural right.

Free will. A fundamental aspect of liberty. Religion is a belief system, and you cannot force someone to believe, with the possible exception of brainwashing, which would be a denial of free will and liberty.

I find it interesting that the Act immediately preceding this one in the PDF concerns a matter of Church under control of the State:

An Act to authorize the Election of certain Vestries

Whereas the members of the Protestant Episcopal Church residing in many parishes [word erased] within this Commonwealth have been prevented from carrying into Execution an act for incorporating the Protestant Episcopal Church within the period therein limited for the election of vestries, occasioned by the said law not having been sufficiently promulgated so as to enable the Members of the said church to proceed in the execution thereof. Be it therefore enacted by the General Assembly that Elections for vestrymen in manner prescribed by the said recited act shall be held in all such parishes on Monday in next Easter week if fair, if not, on the next fair day. And the said vestries when elected and qualified, shall have the same powers and authority, and be subject to the like rules and regulations as other vestries within this Commonwealth are by the said act entitled to, governed by, and vested with.

As an Episcopalian, I shudder at the thought of the government having such control over my church. I also shudder at the thought of some other religion having control over my government, for religion is not a democracy. If not voluntarily embraced, it is authoritarian and therefore a tyranny. How ironic that those who are most vocal in opposition to Sharia law have the same plank in their eye over Biblical law. There is no religious liberty when the government favors one belief system over another. It is said that good fences make good neighbors, and the proper role of government in a society of religious freedom is to be that fence, to mediate the frictions between conflicting religions so as to promote domestic tranquility and the greatest extent of liberty for all.

No single liberty can be absolute. There is always a point where it begins to infringe on another’s liberty. If supremacy were given to religious ‘conscienc­e’, then adhering to law would become optional and the rule of law, the foundation on which even the Constitution is built, would be irreparably undermined. In Federalist #2, John Jay said that:

“Nothing is more certain than the indispensable necessity of government, and it is equally undeniable, that whenever and however it is instituted, the people must cede to it some of their natural rights in order to vest it with requisite powers.”

This states the reasoning behind the basic social contract we have as a nation: the Constitution.

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

The Preamble to the Constitution states it more clearly: We the People…do ordain and establish… Not by the “grace of God”, but by the consent of the governed.

From Article VI:

“no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”

That includes the entire public sector.

Sadly, faith in religion can sometimes be misplaced.

Today of all days, St. Paul-Minneapolis Archdiocese files for bankruptcy in wake of sex abuse lawsuits

And: Boy who claimed he had been to heaven retracts story, best-selling book is pulled

And possibly the worst of the week: Conceived as symbol of pluralism, Muslim call to prayer at Duke canceled after backlash

The original plan drew the ire of evangelist Franklin Graham, who urged Duke alumni to withhold support because of violence against Christians he attributed to Muslims. Schoenfeld said emails and calls came from alumni and others in the community.

Blaming all Muslims for the actions of a few – and make no mistake: given the number of Muslims in the world, the number of Islamic terrorists is a very small percentage (not to mention that they are killing more Muslims than Christians) – is nothing less than religious persecution of innocent Muslims by caustic Christians who only pretend to defend religious liberty.

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