Independence Day and Religious Freedomby
We hope everyone is enjoying a wonderful Independence Day and recalling the freedoms on which our nation was founded and is still governed. So please take a few minutes to read the words that heralded the birth of our nation.
We also thought it would be appropriate to note the words of two of our greatest American thinkers and heroes, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. Jefferson, of course, authored our nation’s Declaration of Independence. Madison is often considered the father of the Constitution. We recall the words of both (below) at a time when members of the Texas State Board of Education threaten one of our most cherished and important freedoms by insisting that public schools promote one particular religious perspective over all others. Indeed, some board members, like Cynthia Dunbar, and other influential political activists, like David Barton, even insist that our government, laws and elected officials essentially be judged by religious tests. Jefferson and Madison strongly argued otherwise.
“(O)ur civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, more than our opinions in physics or geometry; that, therefore, the proscribing any citizen as unworthy the public confidence by laying upon him an incapacity of being called to the offices of trust and emolument, unless he profess or renounce this or that religious opinion, is depriving him injuriously of those privileges and advantages to which in common with his fellow citizens he has a natural right; that it tends also to corrupt the principles of that very religion it is meant to encourage, by bribing, with a monopoly of worldly honors and emoluments, those who will externally profess and conform to it.”
“Be it therefore enacted by the General Assembly, That no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burdened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in nowise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.”
The Virginia General Assembly passed Jefferson’s proposed religious freedom act in 1786, a year after Madison wrote Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments in opposition to a bill, introduced into the same body, to spend public dollars to support religious education. That bill failed to pass. Madison wrote:
“Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other Religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other Sects? that the same authority which can force a citizen to contribute three pence only of his property for the support of any one establishment, may force him to conform to any other establishment in all cases whatsoever?”
“If ‘all men are by nature equally free and independent,’ all men are to be considered as entering into Society on equal conditions; as relinquishing no more, and therefore retaining no less, one than another, of their natural rights. Above all are they to be considered as retaining an ‘equal title to the free exercise of Religion according to the dictates of Conscience.’ Whilst we assert for ourselves a freedom to embrace, to profess and to observe the Religion which we believe to be of divine origin, we cannot deny an equal freedom to those whose minds have not yet yielded to the evidence which has convinced us. If this freedom be abused, it is an offence against God, not against man: To God, therefore, not to man, must an account of it be rendered.”
“Torrents of blood have been split in the old world, by vain attempts of the secular arm, to extinguish Religious disscord, by proscribing all difference in Religious opinion. Time has at length revealed the true remedy. Every relaxation of narrow and rigorous policy, wherever it has been tried, has been found to assauge the disease. The American Theatre has exhibited proofs that equal and compleat liberty, if it does not wholly eradicate it, sufficiently destroys its malignant influence on the health and prosperity of the State. If with the salutary effects of this system under our own eyes, we begin to contract the bounds of Religious freedom, we know no name that will too severely reproach our folly. At least let warning be taken at the first fruits of the threatened innovation.”