Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Redefining the First Amendment

The following was originally posted in April, 2005:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.-Amendment I

The First Amendment is perhaps the most well known of those that comprise the Bill of Rights. Or is it? Free speech and assembly are more or less understood broadly. The right to petition the Government is likewise relatively common knowledge. But strangely enough, the so called “establishment clause” seems to be a matter of contention.

The two main contenders in this civic drama are the political extremes: committed secularists and devout religionists. For one reason or another, each group claims that this Amendment was codified to silence the other. In an essay entitled The Enemies of Religious Liberty that indicts the secular left, James Hitchcock writes:
But legal restraint on religious influence is not to be confined only to the public sphere and to corporate religious life; it extends to individuals as well. Macedo acknowledges that such strictures are designed to affect citizens’ private beliefs; exclusion from public life, he predicts, will cause believers to find their faiths less credible, and he justifies tolerating these faiths merely on the grounds that such toleration can cree use of governmental authority precisely for the purpose of undermining their own beliefs, even of impairing their ability to inculcate those beliefs in their children. By redefining “free exercise” and exalting the “establishment clause,” separationists have in effect “established” their own hostility to religion.

It would seem that an invocation of “majority” status justifies the use of Government authority to compel others to either act in a certain fashion or accept a particular philosophy. Now, I’m not suggesting that Hitchcock explicitly advocates theocracy in his essay, but it’s clear to me that not a few people in this country assert that America IS a Christian nation. Further, they claim that the First Amendment does not insist upon “separation of Church and State”.

Anyone with a public school education ought to be able to understand that the First Amendment prohibits the Government from either establishing or restricting any and every religion. There is, in fact, both a freedom of and freedom from religion. The desire of some to use the police power of Government to force others to conform to a particular ideology and thereby suppress individual liberty, is precisely the reason the Bill of Rights was ratified.