Religious Freedom and the Constitution

Religious Freedom and the Constitution

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” ~ from the U.S. Constitution, First Amendment

Freedom of religion – or perhaps you prefer to use the term religious freedom – is one of the most fundamental principals in American society. Freedom of religion was one of the few “absolute musts” in 1787 when delegates at the Constitutional Convention met to create a framework for American government – a framework we know as the Constitution of the United States. In fact, freedom of religion is such an important aspect of the system which our founders set up that opposing the concept of religious freedom means also opposing the concept of America. If you don’t agree with freedom of religion, you are un-American – it is that fundamental to our system.

“The Religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate. This right is in its nature an unalienable right.” ~ James Madison, “The Father of the Constitution”

Religious freedom means that none of us can be coerced into holding or proclaiming specific beliefs in regards to religion. We are all free to worship as we please; or not worship at all if we choose. Religion is a matter of individual conscience.


“We have abundant reason to rejoice, that, in this land, the light of truth and reason has triumphed over the power of bigotry and superstition, and that every person may here worship God according to the dictates of his own heart. In this enlightened age, & in this land of equal liberty, it is our boast, that a man’s religious tenets will not forfeit the protection of the laws, nor deprive him of the right of attaining & holding the highest offices that are known in the United States.” ~ George Washington, “The Father of our Country”

Religious freedom also means that the government cannot take sides by promoting one religion over any other religion.

“Religion & Govt. will both exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together.” ~ James Madison

Religious freedom does NOT mean that we can bully those with different beliefs. Religious freedom does NOT mean that we can impose our prejudices on society by claiming “religious freedom” to do so. The government must stay neutral; this means that the government cannot allow institutional prejudice in the name of religious freedom.

“The Citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for giving to Mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy: a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.” ~ George Washington

Freedom of religion means that to be American is to tolerate different beliefs.

“In regard to religion, mutual toleration in the different professions thereof is what all good and candid minds in all ages have ever practised, and, both by precept and example, inculcated on mankind.” ~ Samuel Adams

Religious freedom in America is meaningless unless it is reciprocal. When you choose to do something in the name of “religious freedom”, you must be willing to allow those with different beliefs to take similar actions. If you wouldn’t agree that it is okay if the shoe were on the other foot, then you are the one interfering with religious freedom. “Religious freedom for those who agree with me but not for those with different beliefs” is NOT true freedom; it is un-American.

  1. If you make a public display out of mocking, bullying, threatening, or intimidating those who are exercising beliefs different from yours – and if you support those who do – you are the one acting in an un-American manner. Religious tolerance is fundamental to the American system.
  2. If you think that it is okay for businesses which are open to the public to deny service to individuals because of “religious freedom”, yet you would oppose giving the same right to businesses whose owners might disagree with something about you, then you are the one acting in an un-American manner. Selling to the public is a choice made by business owners, not a government-enforced denial of religious freedom.
  3. If you complain about the government not displaying religious symbols and messages, and if you complain about public schools not leading public prayers – but you wouldn’t find it acceptable if the symbols, messages, and prayers were based on religious beliefs that you don’t agree with – then you are in opposition to fundamental American principles.

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

America’s founders deliberately made freedom of religion a cornerstone of American society. The Constitution demands that government in the United States must remain a secular government. A secular government is necessary for religious freedom to exist – a secular government is NOT anti-religion. Religion is a matter of personal conscience. A secular government is the only kind of government which can keep it that way. The concept of separation of church and state is built into the American system through the Constitution.

“Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between church and State.” ~ Thomas Jefferson

Freedom of religion is a fundamental American right. This cannot be changed without destroying the basic concepts which the United States was founded upon. Everybody’s rights hinge on the acceptance of rights for others. Nobody can take rights away from others by calling it “religious freedom”.

“Christianity neither is, nor ever was, a part of the common law.” ~ Thomas Jefferson

Protecting the rights of minorities is also a fundamental American principle. In America, no majority can take rights away from minorities. This is true of all rights guaranteed in the Constitution, including religious freedom. Whether or not your beliefs are in the majority is completely irrelevant.

“What an effort, my dear sir, of bigotry in politics and religion have we gone through!” ~ Thomas Jefferson

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Jerry Wyant