Backgrounder: Religious Liberty

September 25, 2019

by Mark Franke

Some folks in the federal courts and governmental agencies decided to read the actual language of the First Amendment, that part which says the practice of religion cannot be prohibited. Instead of being cat’s paws for the anti-religion crowd, they came down on the side of the free exercise of religion as the amendment specifies quite literally.

There are more but these five indicate a welcome trend to affirm that the First Amendment still has writ in our nation.

The opponents of religious liberty argue that any display of religious symbols on public and quasi-public land, and here they mean primarily Christian symbols such as the cross, constitutes an establishment of religion which is proscribed by the First Amendment. They frequently cite the “separation of church and state” principle, which language is not to be found in the text of the amendment but rather in a letter written by Thomas Jefferson whose anti-Christianity pedigree is well documented.

While atheists and other non-religious people have the same rights under the First Amendment as the devout, their rights do not trump ours. My religious liberty as a Christian is not abridged when I drive past a mosque or some secularized humanistic sign. I can just keep driving by. My freedom of religion is secured by the free practice of other religions and non-religious belief systems in the public square.

Note, too, that there is no language in the First Amendment protecting us from exposure to all religion, only from an established religion enforced by the state. As politically incorrect as this has become, the inconvenient fact of our nation’s founding rests largely on groups looking for religious freedom. School children used to be taught the real reason the pilgrims and other groups came here. =Not any more, alas.

The defense of liberty requires constant vigilance. The power of the state advances whenever and wherever it can unless it is constrained. In a republic like ours, it is incumbent on the citizenry to erect these constraints sometimes at significant personal cost. Fortunately there are those like the Minnesota filmmakers and the Colorado baker willing to pay that cost.

“Freedom Is Not Free” preaches the popular bumper sticker. That is proving to be more true than its clever author could have anticipated.

Mark Franke, an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review, is formerly an associate vice chancellor at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne.


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