Freedom Of Religion: What Happened?

“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.” —The First Amendment in the Bill of Rights

Freedom of religion.

This used to mean that every citizen had the right to her own beliefs in God. She had the right to choose her own church, and attend it freely. She had the right to pray to her own God, with no governmental inference.

This used to mean that every citizen had the right to belief in no god. She could not be compelled to attend church, or to pray to any god.

It meant that there was no State Church, no State religion.

When did it come to mean that the beliefs and practices of a faith held by a numerical majority of the country could be written into law?

When did it come to mean that the declarations of a religious system had to be given deferential treatment, that one’s faith held equal footing with science in the practice of medicine?

When did it come to mean that religious leaders held more sway with our government than its very own people?

What happened?

Church attendance has declined. Our knowledge of science has advanced. Technology has developed so quickly that our world has been changed dramatically. The power of the Church has been waning. It can no longer send armies to subdue heretics. Questions that humans have been asking for centuries are increasingly being answered by science. The Church is losing, every day, more and more, the status of having all the answers, to life, the universe, and everything.

It is no coincidence that religion is fighting for so hard now in this country what it fought against over two hundred years ago. They began fighting against it as almost as soon as they got it.


About Brittany-Ann
Brittany-Ann is a proud, self-identified feminist with fictional tendencies. She currently writes for and moderates at My Fault I'm Female. She smokes camels, reads Dumas, and navigates a conservative state as "one of them darn liberals."

One Response to Freedom Of Religion: What Happened?

  1. Ironically, at the time the Bill of Rights was written, it only meant that CONGRESS should make no law related to the EXISTING state-established religions. My mother’s ancestors, in Maine, were considered tax-dodgers when they became Methodists in 1810 and got an exemption from paying the tax that supported the Congregational minister. In Maine, then part of Puritan Massachusetts, the Congregational church was the state-established, tax-supported church. Some states were Anglican, some Presbyterian. Some didn’t have a state church (e.g. Rhode Island, founded by Roger Williams, who fled from the Puritans in Massachusetts in order to practice his own Quaker faith).

    (My father’s ancestors also got as far from the Puritans as they could …)

    Just to say … points about science and thought notwithstanding, the Bill of Rights needs to be understood on its own terms first; then as it was later reinterpreted.

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