Religious Freedom: Worth Fighting For

Religious Freedom: Worth Fighting For

2020| Week of January 13 | Radio Transcript #1342

Religious freedom. Two pretty simple words, easy to pronounce, but packed with meaning. Words that represent an idea that has been worth fighting for more than once.

We’re not talking about freedom of worship here. That’s what President Obama used frequently when talking about the First Amendment to our US Constitution.  Freedom of worship means that in places where worship would generally be considered typical or expected, people can express their beliefs and convictions without fear of government intrusion.  That is decidedly not religious freedom as our founders understood it, wrote about it and protected in the constitution.

This country was founded by people looking for true religious freedom, not freedom of worship. When the Constitution was written, the colonists had just a decade earlier fought a war for their independence, an independence that included being free from a state church.

In 1786, a year before the Constitution was written and signed, Thomas Jefferson drafted legislation that became known as the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom.  Jefferson considered this legislation one of the greatest achievements of his life. The proposal was adopted in the Virginia legislature on January 16, 1786, which is why today Religious Freedom Day is recognized each year on January 16.

Jefferson’s Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom stopped the practice of taxing people to pay for the support of local clergy and protected the civil rights of people to express their religious beliefs without suffering discrimination. Jefferson’s work became a model for those who drafted the First Amendment to the US Constitution.

And what does the First Amendment say about religion and the exercise thereof? Here is the exact wording: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof….”

The first part of the First Amendment is known as the “Establishment Clause.” The wording is very clear: congress is prohibited from making a law that establishes a religion, like a state religion that represents the entire country and has a leader who is both of the government and of the clergy, rather like The Church of England with the Queen as the head of the church. That clause doesn’t say the church should not have any input into government or that the government can have absolutely nothing to do with a church or a religion. Unfortunately, courts over the years have taken great liberties in how they interpret this “Establishment Clause.”

The second clause of the First Amendment is known as the “Free Exercise Clause.” Again the wording is crystal clear, although written 233 years ago. Congress cannot make a law that prohibits the free exercise of a person’s religion.  Free exercise is about both public and private practice; it’s about living out what we believe 24/7 in the market place, in the halls of government, in public places, in the culture in general. Once again, activist courts over the years have done great violence to the clear and simple wording the founders gave us in these opening clauses to the First Amendment.

Religious Freedom Day gives us an opportunity each year to reflect on the truth of the First Amendment and its importance for us in being truly free people. The founders called religious freedom the “first freedom,” not because it is the first part of the First Amendment, but because it is absolutely foundational to all our other freedoms.  Protecting it is vitally important.

Each year since 1993, the president declares January 16th as “Religious Freedom Day” and urges Americans everywhere “to observe this day through appropriate events and activities in homes, schools, and places of worship.”

This past Sunday was Religious Freedom Sunday. Did your church recognize this day in any way?  What about the school your children attend? Anything happening this week or in particular this Thursday to observe this day, to educate the next generation about religious freedom? And what about in your home? Why not take some time this week to gather the family and discuss religious freedom and to thank God that we still have it in our country.  Visit to see the President’s proclamation. I’m confident it will be worth your time.

Religious freedom. Two powerful words that should be worth fighting for today, just as those who have gone before us have done—and oh the difference that fight has made.

This is Julaine Appling for Wisconsin Family Council reminding you the Prophet Hosea said, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.”

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