Freedom from Freedom from Religion: The Intent of Our Founding Fathers

Have you heard of the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF)? 

They’re a herd of control freaks who dedicate their free time to harassing and bullying devout Christians out of public view and back into the closets whence they came.  The modus operandi of these self-described "free thinkers" is as follows:  A small town has a religious monument on public land.  It's been there since the Battle of Brandywine.  Of the town's 3,000 residents, 2,999 have no problem whatsoever with it.  But a single perpetually offended milksop will whimper to the FFRF that its presence is somehow obliterating his constitutional rights.  The FFRF sends a letter to the town's city hall threatening expensive legal action if they don't immediately remove the monument.  City hall buckles at the threat and removes it.  The FFRF moves on to the next town and repeats.  Honorable conduct at its finest. 

Some recent religious activity that sours the FFRF curmudgeons include:

  • Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez invited Kanye West to perform at two of his prisons.  To the chagrin of FFRF attorneys, West performed gospel songs and prayed with prisoners! 
  • Judge Tammy Kemp gave her Bible to a sobbing Amber Guyger, who had just been convicted for murder, to console her and give her spiritual strength.  A FFRF attorney tweeted this amounted to "coercion," and a formal complaint was filed against Kemp.
  • Students at Fyffe High School held a worship service in their gymnasium.  The FFRF attorneys donned their capes in old phone booths, so to speak, and sent a letter to the superintendent demanding school officials stop "inappropriately indoctrinating students."
  • Football players at Washington County High School took part in a baptism with their coach.  The FFRF attorneys sent another letter to the superintendent directing him to prevent any further "illegal religious events." 

("Illegal religious events." Think about that phrase. It was written not by Chinese laogai administrators, but by American lawyers.)

  • Chisholm Elementary School was planning a Nativity play.  Aghast at the mutiny of 3rd graders pretending to be Jesus' parents, FFRF attorneys sent another letter.  The 3rd graders' insurrection was promptly dispersed. 

The FFRF’s operating strategy requires an intentional misrepresentation of the First Amendment. When Walker County Sheriff Nick Smith implored citizens to pray after the murder of another sheriff, FFRF attorneys claimed the Constitution "prohibits government entities like the sheriff's office from promoting religious activity."

Actually, the Constitution prohibits no such thing. Nor does it prohibit "government sponsorship of religious messages." Nor does it prohibit county governments from displaying "religious symbols on government property." The Constitution prohibits the United States Congress from establishing an official national religion.The FFRF attorneys know this, they just don't care.

Kanye West singing gospel to prisoners is not Congress establishing an official religion. Nor is a judge giving a defendant a Bible, nor students voluntarily praying on school grounds. Further instances of the FFRF's inability to decipher the Constitution are evident here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

The FFRF might argue that, while the Founding Fathers framed the Establishment Clause strictly in terms of Congressional legislation on a national level, the intent of the clause encompassed all government sponsorship of religion.  But this argument is contradicted by the actions of the Founders themselves.  Many of the same Founders who supported ratification of the First Amendment also wrote their respective states’ constitutions.  Their authors include James Madison, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Samuel Adams, George Mason, Samuel Chase and John Pickering, among others.  These Founders had no objections to religion being established and promoted on state and local levels. 

The constitutions of Massachusetts and New Hampshire instituted “public worship” of God and “public instruction” in morality and religion, and required towns to make adequate provisions for it.  The constitution of South Carolina established Protestantism as the official state religion.  The Virginia Declaration of Rights referred to the “mutual duty of all” to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity.  The constitution of Maryland allowed the legislature to raise taxes “for the support of the Christian religion,” including the building and repair of churches.  The constitutions of Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, the Carolinas, Maryland, Georgia, and New Jersey required all state public officeholders to be Protestant, and many required public oaths affirming this.

Do the authors of these constitutions sound like the type of people who would faint over teenagers praying on school property?

The point here is not to defend or oppose these laws (which have since been amended out, though all 50 current state constitutions acknowledge God or a supreme being), but to demonstrate that the mangled pretzel into which groups like the FFRF have twisted the Establishment Clause is demonstrably not what its authors intended.  Nor is this a polemic against atheists, but rather a critique against the FFRF's despicable methodology. 

They prefer the moniker "free thinkers" to "atheists" to smugly suggest that anyone religious is not a free thinker.  But do free thinkers rely on threats and protracted lawsuits to suppress peaceful expression with which they disagree?  Do free thinkers launch billboard campaigns boasting infantile taunts rather than logical arguments?  Do free thinkers intentionally misrepresent both their opponents and the Constitution to secure a basis for their presuppositions?  Such are the actions not of free thinkers, but of cowards so inwardly uncertain of their own beliefs that their only recourse is to silence others. 

One can be an atheist and still acknowledge the debt owed by Western civilization to its Judeo-Christian foundations.  The Bible, specifically the Pentateuch and the Gospels, are undeniably the most influential writings in human history.  Our civilization was forged from its laws, philosophies, morals, arguments, and, yes, its faith.  The last 2,000 years of Western rational thought, both spiritual and secular, was molded and driven almost exclusively by the Judeo-Christian ethic.  The near-utopia we inhabit is a gift from Paul of Tarsus and Sir Isaac Newton, from Maimonides and Thomas Aquinas, from Nicolaus Copernicus and Johannes Kepler, from the Crusaders and the Benedictine monks and the Jesuit scientists, and from the billions of people in between who kept the ethic alive in their struggle to get closer to God.  In comparison, the alleged contributions of the FFRF’s “free thinkers” are meager in comparison.

With the intellectual heavy lifting having been accomplished long ago by those far greater, one would think they’d be content with the permanent vacation they inherited. But they're not.  To hear the militant atheists condemn the religion that serves as the bedrock of his civilization is like hearing the Antifa thug condemn the military that protects his freedom to condemn the military.  To dismiss as superstitious nonsense the transcendental brilliance of not only the Scriptures and the Judeo-Christian prophets, but also the Sufi mystics, Vyasa's Mahabharata, and the teachings of Lao Tse and Buddha, betray a lack of humility that is simply unfathomable.    

But if their narcissism is contemptible, so is our cravenness.  Take, for example, the recent SCOTUS ruling allowing a World War I memorial cross to remain on government land.  Justices Neil Gorsuch and Clarence Thomas gave the appropriate opinion, in effect telling the plaintiffs, The cross is doing absolutely nothing to "injure" you, so go pound sand.  Justice Samuel Alito, however, sidestepped the issue with an unexpectedly gutless quip that “We can never know for certain what was in the minds of those responsible for the memorial.”  Really?

Justice Alito is part of the problem.  Our representatives and judges need to stop equivocating.  Stop hemming and hawing about a memorial cross being a "historical” monument, stop fretting about coaches praying with their players, and stop hiding behind “precedent” (Dred Scott and Plessy were “precedents” as well, but were rightly dismantled by better men).

The "free exercise" of religion is how one conducts one's religious life in public, and with the liberty to peaceably do so, regardless of its offense to others.  Along with our leaders, we must defend religious freedom on that basis alone, and not on incidental statutory loopholes or evasive inferences of what constitutes religious expression.  They, and we, need to defend the First Amendment as it is written, as the Founders intended it to be understood.

Image credit: Needpix / Pixabay // public domain

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