May 4, 2009 2 Comments
This issue of the role of church in our government has been long debated over the course of our history. Some have argued to go as far as to say faith has no legitimate role as a basis for coming up with laws to govern this nation, while others contend that the first amendment was written as a way to prevent the establishment of a national religion (theocracy) and protect the establishment of all religions. In order to fully understand the intent of the founders when they put together the constitution, one must take into consideration the historical context surrounding the writing of this amendment. When doing this it can be seen that this was designed to protect the people and maintain a stability in the government
When the bills of right were ratified the United States was still a small, growing nation that had just broken off from the rule of the King of England. Many of the colonists had a history of religious persecution they were escaping from. Great Britain, under King Henry VIII, broke away from the Catholic Church during a controversial divorce dispute between the King and the Pope. In response the Church of England was formed, resulting in an intolerance of any other religion including different sects of Christianity. The colonists had great fear of this and wanted to make sure this could not happen in the newly established government. They crafted the wording of the amendment to assert that no one religion could be propped up by a law so as to impede on the free practice of other people’s beliefs. They did not want people being prosecuted because one doesn’t comply with a given religion.
Separation of Church from the state, though, did not mean that religion was to be completely cut off from it. All of the founding fathers were known to be religious men, primarily Christian. The exception to that were Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, who were believed to have been deists. Nonetheless, all of them believed in God and clearly intended for that belief to be a part of the moral fabric of this country. It could not be made clearer in the Declaration of Independence, “we hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” It is important to understand the two ideas this passage underscores. It acknowledges first that there is a higher power that is responsible for creating us and the world we live in. Secondly it goes onto say that our rights as human beings are conferred to us by that higher moral authority and thus no government established by man has the authority to take these away.
It is through the founders that the important of religion in our government was underscored. The basic human rights, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness better referred to as life liberty and property are considered to be unalienable rights. If you are to hold the government accountable to those ideals, saying that is does not have the authority to infringe on those freedoms, than it is impossible disestablish religious belief from the laws that it creates. That moral code must apply to everything a government does to operate binding it to this declaration of faith by our founders.
By subjecting the rule of man over man to this moral authority, you protect all individuals in the state. A government that itself confers rights on individuals can be subject to rationing of rights to those who support the government. It could easily be used as a way to punish those in opposition by being allowed to violate the dignity of a dissenting individual. The founders understood this and looked to protect religion from the power of the state by subjecting the state to a higher power. It’s does not specify what that higher power must be, except in that belief in a higher moral order is essential to the stability of the state.