Freedom of Religion and Freedom of Thought (Part I)

freedom1America’s founders believed religious freedom to be the “first liberty.” That is seen in the first amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America which “prohibits the making of any law ‘respecting an establishment of religion’ or impeding the free exercise of religion” (Wikipedia). The freedoms guaranteed in our constitution are so precious that millions of Americans have fought and died to protect them and to assure the same rights to future generations.

As precious as freedom of religion is, it is a tragedy that it is under attack by many of the very people who are charged with the responsibility of seeing to it that the rights guaranteed by the constitution are applied equitably. The “establishment clause” in the Constitution, interpreted as “separation of church and state,” as applied today, comes out that the government must be protected from exposure to religion and religious influence, or as sometimes expressed, “freedom from religion.” Thus, the injection of Biblical ideas and principles into the public forum is actively discouraged under the pretense of assuring the separation of church and state.

Under the influence of this philosophy, people of religious conviction in public office are free to hold their beliefs, but are not free to speak those convictions in the public arena. Acquiescing to this philosophy, politicians and public officials will admit to having faith in God, but will not allow that professed faith to inform their decisions. People are encouraged to compartmentalize their lives with their faith in one box, their public life and responsibilities in another and their personal lives in yet another and many people willingly comply with this official curtailment of freedom. This approach creates a dualistic, multi-level being and not a whole person. But human beings are not built that way. Man was intended by his Creator to live as an integrated, whole being.

The objective of this life is to become like God so as to reflect God’s image and glory into the world. The whole life is life that is achieving the closest likeness to God one can. A part of that is to bring people into the ideal community where we live together, sharing lives and caring for the needs of each other. That, if properly understood, is the purpose and goal of religion. How can that be detrimental to the well-being of a nation? If enough people in a nation were actively pursuing that goal, there would be dramatic change in our country, but the change would be positive.

I fully realize that the intent of many religious people is to force the principles and practice of their religion upon all people, but that is not at all the objective of Christianity. Yes, we do try to persuade others to become “altogether such as we are” and we treasure the freedom to preach the gospel, but true Christians will never violate the right of others by coercion rather than reasoning with them. To do otherwise would be to deny the free will of the individual. A person’s decision to be a Christian must be freely made and his subsequent service must be freely offered.

We could, of course, worship God without the right being constitutionally guaranteed. The early Christians did. There are millions of people around the world who are presently doing that very thing in obedience to God but in defiance of their government. Even in communistic countries the faith of Jesus Christ is spreading in a remarkable way in spite of official opposition. Governments may prohibit the free exercise of religion, but they cannot ban freedom of the human spirit! They may control the information available to citizens and thereby minimize the ability of people to make informed decisions, but they cannot control the right of people to think for themselves. The right and the ability of people to think for themselves is something inherent in our nature, put there by God himself at the time of our creation by virtue of our being made in His image. MR

Reposted from November 20, 2010

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