Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. This statement is clear, concise, to the point and desires absolutely no interpretation. There is absolutely nothing in the constitution that talks about the “separation of church and state”. That statement can be attributed to a letter from Thomas Jefferson in response to members of the Danbury Baptiste association who were worried about government encroachment on their religious liberties. He responded “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”. http://billofrightsinstitute.org/founding-documents/primary-source-documents/danburybaptists/ It is interesting to note that two days after writing this letter Jefferson attended a church service in the House of Representatives.
Freedom of religion does not mean that there is no circumstance under which the practice of religion cannot be subject to certain laws. As a country though, we must be very careful how we choose to apply any rule of law against the free practice of religion. This right is not mercifully extended to the citizens by the benevolent hand of government. It is a God given right! And no one has the authority to impinge on this it! Just as no man has the right to enslave another, no one has the right to encroach on the religious freedom of another. It is significant that in countries where people are free to pursue their conscience, there tends to be respect for other freedoms as well. Religious freedom is strongly related to political liberty, economic freedom, and prosperity. “[W]herever religious freedom is high, there tends to be fewer incidents of armed conflict, better health outcomes, higher levels of earned income, and better educational opportunities for women.” http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2010/12/why-does-religious-freedom-matter
Quite frankly, religious freedom is the harbinger of the many freedoms that people simultaneously enjoy. If you do not believe this then look at the countries where religion is forbidden or there is a theocratic state. The likelihood of countries like America suddenly descending into tyranny is highly improbable, but if it was to happen it would most likely happen incrementally by attacking basics rights like religious liberty. For this reason citizens must be vigilant and fight back against any, and all attacks on their faith if they want to continue enjoying this God given right. The freedoms that we enjoy in the western world and other democracies are a direct result of this great experiment in governance by the America people. We must ensure that these rights are there for, and continue to be enjoyed by our posterity.
The history of the world is littered with despots, and tyranny fills our not too distant past. We must be ever mindful of this and do everything in our power to guard these liberties that we take for granted. When Justice Hugo Black used this statement by Jefferson in his ruling against the school district in NJ almost 70 years ago he started a dangerous precedent. Since then there has been a slow steady stream of subtle attacks on religious freedoms that have recently taken on new fervor. It has gotten to the point that one cannot even say a public prayer before a football game in many school districts, towns have banned traditional Christmas displays, the United States government tried to force a major employer to provide the morning after pills to women even though it goes against their beliefs, some religious foster home charities have been forced to close their doors because they too refused to compromise their convictions about children growing up in traditional families, a city in California tried to ban home bible studies, and the list continues. What makes this particularly alarming is that all of these attacks have been initiated by the State in the guise of concern for some “greater” cause. Americans must be vigilant and guard against this slow invasive creep. Even if one hates religion and disagrees with many of the positions held by these religious institutions, no one can afford to let these attacks go unchallenged. We are all stake holders because as religious freedom goes, so goes many of our other freedoms.