Freedom of Religion: The U.S. Founders' and Framers' View

Freedom of Religion: The U.S. Founders' and Framers' View

Washington : DC : USA | May 23, 2009 at 11:51 PM PDT
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As a point of reference in interpreting what the founding fathers wished to avoid with respect to the language in the Constitution on religion as contained within the First Amendment, it might be informative to read the text of Ben Franklin's speech on the day it was ratified.

The failure to provide a "Bill of Rights" for the people of this nation against any abuse of the new government actually was what was responsible for holding up the Constitution's ratification, hence, Mr. Franklin's speech and the promise that the first work of this new government would be those first ten amendments.

And while freedom of religion was the intent in order to prevent what had occurred in England between the Catholics and the Protestants for centuries and then establishment of the state-wide Church of England, it is clear from the text of Mr. Franklin's speech that the provision was intended to protect the freedom of the states on this issue, and also so that no "sect" of the Christian faith was declared the "official" U.S. religion nationwide.

The provisions also with respect to the exclusion of "religious tests" for holding office were actually meant to protect religion also since the requirement of the British people to swear allegiance to the sovereign over the Pope or God was the cause of much of the religious strife in their homeland whose entire belief system was based on biblical foundations above man-made or "sovereign" law.

"Freedom of religion" is quite different than the ACLU definition which clearly is toward banning religion and religous reference from all public forums and squares.

Below is Franklin's pre-ratification speech:

"Mr. President,

I confess that there are several parts of this constitution which I do not at present approve, but I am not sure I shall never approve them: For having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged by better information, or fuller consideration, to change opinions even on important subjects, which I once thought right, but found to be otherwise.

It is therefore that the older I grow, the more apt I am to doubt my own judgment, and to pay more respect to the judgment of others. Most men indeed as well as most sects in Religion, think themselves in possession of all truth, and that wherever others differ from them it is so far error. Steele a Protestant in a Dedication tells the Pope, that the only difference between our Churches in their opinions of the certainty of their doctrines is, the Church of Rome is infallible and the Church of England is never in the wrong.

But though many private persons think almost as highly of their own infallibility as of that of their sect, few express it so naturally as a certain french lady, who in a dispute with her sister, said "I don't know how it happens, Sister but I meet with no body but myself, that's always in the right -

In these sentiments, Sir, I agree to this Constitution with all its faults, if they are such; because I think a general Government necessary for us, and there is no form of Government but what may be a blessing to the people if well administered, and believe farther that this is likely to be well administered for a course of years, and can only end in Despotism, as other forms have done before it, when the people shall become so corrupted as to need despotic Government, being incapable of any other. I doubt too whether any other Convention we can obtain, may be able to make a better Constitution.

For when you assemble a number of men to have the advantage of their joint wisdom, you inevitably assemble with those men, all their prejudices, their passions, their errors of opinion, their local interests, and their selfish views. From such an assembly can a perfect production be expected? It therefore astonishes me, Sir, to find this system approaching so near to perfection as it does; and I think it will astonish our enemies, who are waiting with confidence to hear that our councils are confounded like those of the Builders of Babel; and that our States are on the point of separation, only to meet hereafter for the purpose of cutting one throats.

Thus I consent, Sir, to this Constitution because I expect no better, and because I am not sure, that it is not the best. The opinions I have had of its errors, I sacrifice to the public good. I have never whispered a syllable of them abroad. Within these walls they were born, and here they shall die.

If every one of us in returning to our Constituents were to report the objections he has had to it, and endeavor to gain in support of them, we might prevent its being generally received, and thereby lose all the salutary effects; great advantages resulting naturally in our favor among foreign Nations as well as among ourselves, from our real or apparent unanimity. Much of the strength; efficiency of any Government in procuring and securing happiness to the people, depends, on opinion, on the general opinion of the goodness of the Government, as well as of the wisdom and integrity of its Governors.

I hope therefore that for our own sakes as a part of the people, and for the sake of posterity, we shall act heartily and unanimously in recommending this Constitution (if approved by Congress and confirmed by the Conventions) wherever our influence may extend, and turn our future thoughts & endeavors to the means of having it well administred.

On the whole, Sir, I can not help expressing a wish that every member of the Convention who may still have objections to it, would with me, on this occasion doubt a little of his own infallibility, and to make manifest our unanimity, put his name to this instrument." (Benjamin Franklin, Constitutional Convention at Philadelphia)

And while the "separation of church and state" will continue to be debated and misconstrued, mostly by the ACLU and the atheists, what is lost is that the "separation" of church and state was actually given for the church's protection and to protect the freedom of Americans to worship at the church of their choosing, not to protect the government from the "interference" of the Christian faith at all.

The entire concept of providing for freedom of religion in this country as an individual right in and of itself as primarily Christian or deists themselves, but who abhorred the positions many were placed in during their lives in England having to swear allegiance to king and country when the sovereigns edicts were against their moral and religious principles and beliefs.

The government of the founder's acknowledged religion and religious beliefs and provided for it in our national culture, with the specific provision for its inclusion attempting merely to avoid the differences in the scriptural teachings with respect to the Protestant and Catholic sectarian differences having application at a governmental level nationwide, since the federal government actually was intended to have few and limited powers over the states and people over-all.

Historically in its origins, the Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu or Muslim beliefs and their wars were primarily due to intolerance of other faiths, each desiring a "country" of their own where their faith was clearly "nationwide," while the Christian wars were fought over sectarian differences between Catholics and Protestants and the various denominations, scriptural interpretations, rituals and practices within them in their former country of England.

Thus this is what the founders were intending to avoid, and also placing the government as accountable to the people and not above it, so that religious tests and fealty to government over the "supreme" Nature's God's laws in the event of moral conflict when the federal government overstepped itself in any respect would then be lessened or avoided.

Tolerance of other religions practices and beliefs is actually uniquely Christian in it's origins in its scriptural provisions, as Christ himself taught in the Golden Rule and parable of the Good Samaritan in loving one's neighbor or enemy AS oneself, and doing unto another as you would have them do unto you - allowing them their freedom to worship God in the manner that you yourself enjoy, whether affiliated with a specific church or not, so long as it does not impinge upon the rights of other of his children to worship in the manner they see fit.

And "of" is not "from" except, perhaps, in a language other than English.

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