Out From Under the Umbrella

playing in the rain

On the Side of Religious Liberty


Our sentiments are uniformly on the side of religious liberty: that Religion is at all times and places a matter between God and individuals, that no man ought to suffer in name, person, or effects on account of his religious opinions, [and] that the legitimate power of civil government extends no further than to punish the man who works ill to his neighbor.* But sir, our constitution of government is not specific. Our ancient charter, together with the laws made coincident therewith, were adapted as the basis of our government at the time of our revolution.

~Letter from Nehemiah Dodge to Thomas Jefferson dated October 7, 1801

*Emphasis mine

With all the to-do about religion and, in particular Christianity, running up to the GOP nomination and the Presidential election I’ve been thinking a lot about the separation of church and state.  We’ve all heard the tired trope about Thomas Jefferson’s phrasing in his letter to the Danbury Baptists referencing a “wall of separation between church and state” not meaning that religion has no place in politics.  In fact I’ve heard on a number of occasions Dr. James Dobson  reiterating that Jefferson’s letter was merely to assure these Christian men that their religious freedom to worship in the way they chose would not be infringed upon and that Jefferson, himself, would see to that.  They believe that the wall of separation has a door and that door only opens one way. The first amendment is trounced in making the case that Americans have freedom of religion not freedom from religion.

Context is everything.  What prompted this response from Thomas Jefferson?  It was the letter written to to him by the Danbury Baptists from which the above quote was excerpted.  It was their religious liberty they were afraid would be lost.  But, and this is a big but, they also clearly recognized everyone else right to religious liberty.  They, even as Christians, believed that the opinions of individuals about religion was, for lack of a better term, a God-given right and that no one should be punished or discriminated against based on those opinions.

Nowhere in the Constitution, Jefferson’s letter, nor the Danbury Baptist’s letter does it intimate that this wall of separation is there so long as everyone worships the same God.  The cry of candidates like Rick Santorum, who says that the separation of church and state is not absolute, is that you and I may have religious liberty as long as we all believe in the Christian God.  That implicitly infringes on individual religious liberty.

What happened to religion at all times and places being a matter between God and individuals, that no man ought to suffer in name, person, or effects on account of his religious opinions, [and] that the legitimate power of civil government extends no further than to punish the man who works ill to his neighbor?  Laws should not be formed and implemented based on solely religious ideals.  Laws should be formed and enacted based on the greater good of society.

I will always be on the side of individual religious liberty.  Imagine if another religion becomes the majority.  According to Christians that is likely to happen.  Now imagine that the new majority religion decides to start blurring that line as much as Christians have.  Yeah, nobody wants that.  We are all better off with that wall up and the door sealed forever.

Your Bible governs you.  Not me.  Not the rest of society.  How other people live is between them and their God, or not.  The Constitution guarantees you, me, and everyone else that right.  You don’t have to like it, but that’s what was supposed to make America different and great.

7 thoughts on “On the Side of Religious Liberty

  1. Well stated. The Christian Nation demographic in this country would do well to remember that the rules in place limiting their own influecne (which they so often bemoan) are the same rules that protect them from the influence of others.


  2. Santorum wants to deny women the procedure that his wife underwent to save her life. When others do use the procedure, it is abortion. When Santorum and his wife used it it was an ‘early birth’.

    The religious not only have faith in god. They have a faith in their own godlike ability to discern scripture, to the extent they will pass laws punishing you for not conforming to their interpretation of scriptural content. There is zero possibility of their being mistaken. Wow!


  3. I’m totally stealing this for my next “commentary tidbits” post.


  4. The test for a law should be:

    If the only basis you have for making law is “The Bible Tells Me So” the law should be dismissed.

    There are laws which might be based on “Biblical” or “Religious” principals that are beneficial to society. You know, no stealing, no murdering. But if you need a Bible to tell you those things are wrong and not good for society maybe you have bigger issues. If you have religious convictions about proposed legislation it should be framed in way that expresses how and why that law benefits society. It can’t just be because God said so.

    Take gay marriage, for example. How does a law against that benefit society? If your answer to that is only religious in nature you should rethink your position on it. What you should do in that instance is…well…just not engage in gay marriage yourself if that’s your conviction.


  5. The writer is correct in saying that context is everything. The context is during the time of our forefathers, the only recognized church in England was the Church of England, of which the King was the head! What you had was a political figure in charge of the only church allowed. You can see how this would seriously water down true faith and Biblical practice, especially in times of political motivation. Sure there were other denominations of Christianity in England, however, they were often seen as subversives, troublemakers, and often times criminals.

    Our founding fathers wanted to be sure that government would no longer pollute and dilute faith and religious affairs. People would be free to worship in this nation without fear of interference from the government. This fact is further emphasized by the rest of the clause…”Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” They wanted to be doubly sure that government would never again interfere with the teaching and practice of Biblical truth.

    The problems our forefathers had witnessed and suffered through were of a denominational nature, NOT a doctrinal nature. They did not want one denomination lording over others. Here people would be free to worship as they pleased. Regardless of their individual denominational affiliations, 95% of the signers of the Constitution were practicing Christians who believed the Holy Trinity. They were men of deep religious convictions. They never intended to keep people of faith from voting their values when deciding on issues of political and governmental policy as it is too often assumed today. Hare are a few quotes from our founders to that point…

    “The reason that Christianity is the best friend of Government is because Christianity is the only religion that changes the heart.” ~President Thomas Jefferson

    “The highest story of the American Revolution is this: it connected in one indissoluble bond the principles of civil government with the principles of Christianity.” ~President John Adams

    “We have no government armed in power capable of contending in human passions ubridled by morality and religion. Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other.” ~John Adams


    • It appears you are among those who believe that the only rights guaranteed by our First Amendment is worship of the Christian God. That is simply not true. Many of our Founding Fathers were Deists, not necessarily Christians.

      The problems our forefathers had witnessed and suffered through were of a denominational nature, NOT a doctrinal nature.

      In case you hadn’t noticed denominational differences ARE doctrinal in nature. Else there would be only one denomination.

      “The rights of conscience we never submitted, we could not submit. We are answerable for them to our God. The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg . . . . Reason and free inquiry are the only effectual agents against error.” – John Adams

      *emphasis mine

      “I do not believe in the creed professed by the Jewish church, by the Roman church, by the Greek church, by the Turkish church, by the Protestant church, nor by any church that I know of…Each of those churches accuse the other of unbelief; and for my own part, I disbelieve them all.” -Thomas Paine

      “During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What have been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the Clergy, ignorance and servility in the laity, in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution.” -James Madison

      “Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble enterprise.” -James Madison

      “As to Jesus of Nazareth, my Opinion of whom you particularly desire, I think the System of Morals and his Religion…has received various corrupting Changes, and I have, with most of the present dissenters in England, some doubts as to his Divinity; tho’ it is a question I do not dogmatize upon, having never studied it, and think it needless to busy myself with it now, when I expect soon an opportunity of knowing the Truth with less trouble.” – Benjamin Franklin


  6. Well said, and nice defense to the somewhat misled jdisario.

    I try reminding Christians of that very important point; that they should be the ones demanding a solid wall for their own protection. Regardless of if the whole country ever has a Christian minority, there are a few now, and will be ever more, places where locally they are the minority. It’s one of those cases where they had better be careful what they wish for…


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