Freedom of Religion

In the seventeenth century some of the early colonists came to America fleeing the religious persecution of the Church of England. State sanctioned and supported, the Church of England was officially recognized by the government, and used its official status to thwart the religious beliefs and practices of those it deemed non-conformists.

Having won our independence from Great Britain, the thirteen colonies adopted a Constitution to form a new nation and to fulfill the spirit of the Declaration of Independence that declared, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Concerned that the newly formed federal government might attempt to compromise the personal freedoms Americans had come to enjoy in the New World, the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution known collectively as the Bill of Rights were ratified by the thirteen colonies.

The First Amendment is considered the cornerstone for the other nine. The first words of the First Amendment read, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibit the free exercise thereof.” I have always thought it significant that when our founding fathers sought to protect individual freedoms the very first freedom they sought to secure was the freedom of religion.

This is the historical context of our nation’s founding documents that were framed in a decidedly Christian consensus. Freedom was understood by our founders to be a right granted by God to every man and government’s role is limited to recognize those freedoms, and to protect them.

While it has been coming for some time, we have witnessed, in less than a decade, a seismic shift in moral practices of what is considered culturally acceptable. In light of these changes, Christians believe they are being forced to engage in acts that conflict with their beliefs and their religious liberty is in jeopardy. Freedom of religion has become a matter of debate and a political issue in the current election.

So, what is freedom of religion? Freedom of religion is the right of each individual to believe and practice one’s beliefs, and to associate with those like-minded, without coercing others to do the same and without coercion by others to do differently. It is the right to choose one’s faith or to choose no faith at all.

In the beginning “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them,” Genesis 1:27. I believe part of God’s image in man is a will to act and choose similar to His, and that God in His sovereignty does not violate man’s will.

Neither should government; it is not the place of government to side with one citizen to force another citizen to act against his or her conscience. A threat to religious freedom anywhere, is a threat to religious freedom everywhere.

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