“Congress Shall Make No Law ….”
Many of the original colonists, who founded what became this nation, journeyed here from Europe to escape religious persecution or state sponsored religions. Subsequently, when the colonists succeed in wresting their freedom from England, and after the Articles of Confederation faltered, this nation’s “Founding Fathers” created our current constitutional framework and the Congress passed our first ten amendments, the “Bill of Rights.”
Chief among these paramount rights were the religious freedoms in the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof …..”
Over the years, judicial interpretation of these religious rights have run the gamut from disapproving laws or regulations that indicated a state endorsement of a particular religion or religious practice (ie, the cases over crèches and religious symbols in the public square during the Christmas season) to examining the extent to which the government can fund various aspects of parochial schools. When studying constitutional law, at Notre Dame, in the 1980’s, I distinctly remember reading the U.S. Supreme Court’s religious freedom cases, some of which struck down statutes and regulations that resulted in an “excessive entanglement” between government and religion.
Yet, over the years, there seems to have been a metamorphosis, in both the judicial and political arenas, from the Constitution’s “Religion Clauses” being interpreted simply to prohibit state religions or restrictions on religious practices to then being interpreted to favor irreligion over religion to now being merely secondary to broader public policy goals – such as providing health care to the masses – even if the means and methods for doing so would compel individuals/businesses/organizations to violate fundamental precepts of their religious beliefs by requiring them to pay for contraception, sterilization, abortions and/or abortifacients.
“Obama Care”, and its Leviathan regulations, squarely place the issue before the house: whether religious institutions and people may be forced by the government to fund insurance coverage for contraception, sterilization and abortifacients – even if that violates their religious beliefs. In the words of Charles Chaput, the Catholic Archbishop of Philadelphia, “The HHS mandate can only be understood as a form of coercion.”
What made this country different, for over 200 years, was the ability of people to practice their religion freely and without being coerced, by the government, to violate their own beliefs or being compelled to fund the doing so. One needs only to watch the nightly news to see how Christians are being persecuted in Egypt, , to see the dangers of not allowing people to freely practice their religion, especially if it is a “minority” religion.
Many fear that religious freedom, in the United States, is imperiled or being subjugated to political expediency.
So, .what can and should we do? A first step is to join us at The Religious Liberty Summit on September 20-21, 2013 in Kansas City. We have updates on the HHS Mandate, Conscience Rights Protections, Privacy and Religious Liberty, Religious Liberty and Secularism, to name a few, and breakout strategy sessions where we can learn how individuals, businesses, organizations and lawyers can work together to ensure that the First Amendment’s Religion Clauses remain more than words – but, instead, continue to be the wellspring of enduring rights in this country.
Will we let this moment pass us by and our freedoms erode without a fight? Will we seek to ensure that “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect union, * * * promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity * * * “ continue to honor and fight for our First Amendment Religious freedoms?
The Liberty Bell, in my hometown of Philadelphia, has this religious inscription, from Leviticus, on it: “Proclaim liberty throughout the land unto all the inhabitants thereof. Lev. XXV.VX.” Will we let those religious freedoms continue ringing throughout our nation’s history or let them fade into obscurity? In the words of John Donne: “Ask not for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee.” It is our time. Join us at the Religious Liberty Summit and help us seize the moment and ensure that we repulse the current and growing threats to our religious liberty and enable those constitutional and inalienable religious rights to continue to ring for Our Posterity !
John G. Farnan