Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;
U.S. Constitution, First Amendment, Establishment and Free Exercise clauses
For some time I’ve been observing a growing trend among some Christians (mostly evangelical) to want to end the separation of church and state mandated by the Constitution and make every one conform to Christian values and participate in Christian practices. They say they love America but their stance is so adverse to the foundation stones of our nation, it’s hard to imagine they even know our history.
I’ve been particularly thinking about it in light of my genealogy research and the many ancestors who came here to get away from religious persecution. My 10x great grandfather, William Brewster, was a Puritan Separatist and his religious views first forced him to flee England for Holland. He later managed to return to England long enough to board the Mayflower and come to the Plymouth Colony.
He was one of multitudes of Puritans who fled England because their religious beliefs were outlawed. They braved the hazardous voyage across the ocean and came to the new world in the hope of finding freedom to worship as they chose.
On my mother’s side I’ve long since lost count of the number of Scottish Presbyterians — they’re all over the tree on both sides of her family. Some broke off from the Presbyterian Church in Scotland and came here to establish their version of Presbyterianism. Others, after accepting land in Ireland for some years, wound up fleeing to America when England began persecuting Presbyterians for their failure to follow Anglican law.
Presbyterians weren’t particularly welcome here either as the established religions along the coast disapproved of their beliefs. They gave the Scots land at what were then the frontiers, in order to let them serve as buffers against the Native tribes. In other words they were expendable. Presbyterian ministers were rare in those parts, so many became Baptists.
These are just some of the stories of religious persecution that led many of our early citizens to the Colonies. The Founding Fathers were well aware of the persecution that had hounded so many out of their homes and across an ocean. There is also a great deal of evidence many of them were aware of other religions, such as Hinduism, Islam, etc. So when they established free exercise of religion and forbade the establishment of a state religion, they were specifically safeguarding people from the kind of persecution so many had endured and, by their explicit failure to name Christianity or any denomination thereof, they extended that freedom to all religions.
Ironically many of those who are trying to force everyone to conform to their religious beliefs, to bring Christian prayers back into schools and make Muslim and Jewish and Hindu children participate, are descendants of the persecuted Christians who arrived in a new land seeking freedom to worship as they chose.
Every time I see one of these calls for the State to violate the First Amendment and participate in promoting evangelical Christian beliefs, I feel my ancestors have been dishonored. That their suffering has been forgotten. “Separation of church and state” were Jefferson’s words, describing the meaning of the Establishment and Free Exercise clauses, a separation created to make sure such persecution would not be repeated.
This wall between state and church was built to ensure all people freedom to pursue their religious beliefs without interference from the government. Every call to take down that wall is an assault on one of the great foundation stones of the United States of America and shows either ignorance of or contempt for one of the most important lynch pins of our democracy; one which is central to its greatness.
Let’s not forget why so many of the original settlers came here. Honor their pursuit of religious freedom by honoring religious freedom.