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Religious freedom in the U.S. rears its head…again!

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United States ConstituitionMuch has been made during the last election several election cycles regarding religion. With the rise of TEA party candidates such as Sharron Angle and Christine O’Donnell as well as controversial Islamic mosques, many arguments surround religious freedom in the U.S. Historically, here is what the founders thought.

A Bit of History

Prior to the various state constitutions, parishioners of all church sects were forced to pay “taxes” to support individual State churches. During the state constitutional conventions, people of differing sects petitioned their representatives to eliminate that tax, stating that they were being discriminated (taxed without representation) against. They were being forced to pay a tax to support a church to which they did not adhere. They found those taxes unfair, unjust, and just plain wrong. If memory serves, Patrick Henry spoke eloquently before the Virginia legislature about people of other religious beliefs having to pay taxes to support the State religion and how much that reduced freedom and freedom of religious expression.

Values did not enter into the conversation, since most held the same WASP values. But the idea of being taxed to support a church to which they did not belong did.

As a result, Virginia and Massachusetts, in particular, wrote into their state constitutions that the state would not interfere with religion nor would religion become a state affair. Separation of church and state, for the first time in human history, would exist, giving the maximum freedom to church goers of every creed.

When the Constitution of the US was being drafted, the men who had worked on state constitutions – men such as Madison, Jefferson, Adams – chose the same methodologies they had found so desirable – and approved of – by the populace in their states.

Of course, these men knew the history of religion in Europe: the Inquisition in Spain, the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre in France in which hundreds of thousands of Calvinists were slaughtered over the course of a week, the several Bishops Wars in Scotland up to and including Culloden, and the burning of Protestants in England under Mary.

Nevertheless, these uniquely Americans’ primary motive in choosing to separate religion from the state was not what had occurred in Europe but their motive was to provide the maximum amount freedom of religious expression in the U.S.

They essentially said no matter what your religious persuasion, the state will not discriminate against you, by levying taxes against you or prohibiting you, in any way, from worshiping as you choose.

Essentially our Founders in writing the First Amendment stated, as Queen Elizabeth I told her Protestant ministers who urged her to prosecute Catholics, “I am not the conscience of mens’ souls. That is between them and their God.”

Therefore, our Founders stated the Federal State will not take sides between one religion or another. All religious expression from whatever church or belief will be treated equally and none will take precedence in the law. Each person may practice their religion as their conscience dictates and as they believe, but no one religion will take precedence in the law of the land.

NOTE: For a more complete explanation of the Founders’ thinking as noted in the Federalist Papers, concerning the establishment of the Constitution of the United States, as its primary doctrine, go to this site.

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Written by Valerie Curl

October 19, 2010 at 6:10 PM

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