Individual Rights and Sovereignty
The problem, however, is that this argument is not in keeping with our founding documents. The Declaration of Independence clearly states that the principles upon which this nation was formed was based on the Judeo-Christian belief in a Creator who has bestowed on each citizen life, liberty, and the consequent resulting individual sovereignty. It further stipulates that the singular role of government is to protect these rights and that sovereignty. The Declaration’s prescribed formulation was considered optimal over any other form of government and considered most likely to produce the greatest benefits and prosperous outcome for its people.
Religious Freedom: An Essential Liberty
Like it or not, the majority of Americans still hold to the Judeo-Christian notion that we were created by a generous and caring supreme being. Fortunately for those citizens who do not share this belief, there is no penalty or restriction imposed on them for holding or expressing their differing viewpoint. They are only asked to adhere to the law of the land as defined by our Constitution. And, should they persuade enough fellow citizens to adopt their point of view, the same Constitution provides them with the path and the means of changing these founding principles to conform with what they think would be better for the country.
Nations that do not recognize individual sovereignty are not so tolerant. Any suggested political formulation that removes the Creator as the ultimate source of individual liberties is likely to have the ultimate authority assumed by the one entity that has been permitted the legal use of force, namely, the government.
That is why the current fervor for restricting any expression of a religious nature in a public (government) forum is subversive to our liberties as well as being completely unfounded. The innocent sounding “wall of separation” is neither supported in law or tradition. The phrase was first used by Thomas Jefferson to a Baptist minister to reassure the cleric that the government would “never” make any effort to restrict him or his congregation in the free expression of their faith. Isn’t it ironic that perverse forces today have completely turned that promise around and now claim the concept means to “protect the government from religion”? Moreover, Jefferson, Washington, Franklin, Adams, Hamilton, Madison and most of their contemporaries emphasized that religious principles are the well-spring of our liberties and to constrain or diminish the free expression of one’s faith will only lead to the eventual loss of all remaining freedoms.
God versus Religion
There is a good deal of confusion between believing in God and practicing a religion. The Founding Fathers did not want to establish a theocracy, i.e., a state religion. Nor did they want to give any organized religion a preferential status in government affairs. That is why they wrote the First Amendment as they did, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”. And yet their documents and correspondence are filled with exhortations to honor God and to anchor our freedoms in that belief. The seeming contradiction comes from their distinction between acceptance of the existence of a Supreme Being and any organized religion with its own interpretation of what that means and the set of rules that were derived from that particular belief system. Our Founding Fathers were philosophically oriented and thought it quite rational and reasonable to acknowledge an ultimate cause of all creation and that Cause had to be infinite in all things. How one chose to honor that Supreme Being was an individual decision but a freedom that was nevertheless essential for it was the foundation of all other freedoms.
Part Two will address the confusion regarding the necessary relationship between the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Part Two will be continued next week.