“Each year on JANUARY 16, we celebrate Religious Freedom Day in commemoration of the passage of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom,” wrote President George W. Bush in his 2003 Proclamation.
Passed in 1786, it was drafted by Thomas Jefferson and commemorated on his tombstone.
Did Jefferson intend to outlaw the acknowledgment of God and limit students, teachers, coaches, chaplains, schools, organizations, and communities from public religious expression?
In his original 1777 draft of the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom, Jefferson wrote:
“Almighty God hath created the mind free, and…all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments…tend only to begat habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and are a departure from the plan of the Holy Author of religion, who being Lord both of body and mind, yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as was in his Almighty power to do, but to extend it by its influence on reason alone….”
President Thomas Jefferson explained in his Second Inaugural Address, March 4, 1805:
“In matters of religion I have considered that its free exercise is placed by the Constitution independent of the powers of the General Government.
I have therefore undertaken, on no occasion, to prescribe the religious exercise suited to it; but have left them, as the Constitution found them, under the direction and discipline of state and church authorities by the several religious societies.”
Jefferson explained to Samuel Miller, January 23, 1808:
“I consider the government of the United States as interdicted [prohibited] by the Constitution from inter-meddling with religious institutions, their doctrines, discipline, or exercises…
This results not only from the provision that no law shall be made respecting the establishment or free exercise of religion, but from that also which reserves to the states the powers not delegated to the United States [10th Amendment]…”
“Certainly no power to prescribe any religious exercise, or to assume authority in religious discipline, has been delegated to the General government…
I do not believe it is for the interest of religion to invite the civil magistrate to direct its exercises, its discipline, or its doctrines…
Every religious society has a right to determine for itself the times for these exercises, and the objects proper for them, according to their own particular tenets.”
In 1776, a year before Jefferson drafted his Statute, another Virginian, George Mason, drafted the Virginia Declaration of Rights, which was later revised by James Madison and referred to in his Memorial and Remonstrance, 1785:
“Religion, or the duty we owe to our CREATOR, and manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence;
and, therefore, that all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience,
and that it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love and charity toward each other.”
James Madison made a journal entry, June 12, 1788:
“There is not a shadow of right in the general government to inter-meddle with religion…The subject is, for the honor of America, perfectly free and unshackled. The government has no jurisdiction over it.”
On June 7, 1789, James Madison introduced the First Amendment in the first session of Congress with the wording:
“The civil rights of none shall be abridged on account of religious belief or worship.”
James Madison appointed to the Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story.
Justice Joseph Story wrote in his Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States, 1833, Chapter XLIV, “Amendments to the Constitution,” Section 991:
“The real object of the First Amendment was, not to countenance, much less advance Mohammedanism, or Judaism, or infidelity, by prostrating Christianity; but to exclude all rivalry among Christian sects.”
Samuel Chase, who had been appointed to the Supreme Court by George Washington, wrote in the Maryland case of Runkel v. Winemiller, 1799:
“By our form of government, the Christian religion is the established religion; and all sects and denominations of Christians are placed upon the same equal footing, and are equally entitled to protection in their religious liberty.”
Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens admitted in Wallace v. Jaffree, 1985:
“At one time it was thought that this right merely proscribed the preference of one Christian sect over another, but would not require equal respect for the conscience of the infidel, the atheist, or the adherent of a non-Christian faith.”
When the country began, religious liberty was under each individual Colony’s jurisdiction.
The U.S. Supreme Court decision Engel v. Vitale, 1962, stated:
“Groups which had most strenuously opposed the established Church of England…passed laws making their own religion the official religion of their respective colonies.”
Like dropping a pebble in a pond and the ripples go out, States began to expand religious liberty from the particular Christian denomination that founded each colony to all Protestants, then to Catholics, then to liberal Christian denominations, then to Jews, then to monotheists, then to polytheists.
This process was then continued by the Federal Government to expand “religious” liberty to atheists, pagans, occultic, and eventually to religions which historically have been violently ANTI-Judeo-Christian.
After the Constitution, the States ratified the First Amendment, as well as all Ten Amendments, specifically to limit the new Federal government’s power:
“CONGRESS shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion OR PROHIBITING THE FREE EXERCISE THEREOF…”
The word “Congress” meant the Federal Congress.
“Shall make no law” meant the Federal Congress could not introduce, debate, vote on or send to the President any bill respecting an establishment of religion.
The word “respecting” meant “concerning” or “pertaining to.”
It was simply telling the Federal government “HANDS OFF” all religious issues.
When anything regarding religion came before the Federal government, the response was to be that it had no jurisdiction to decide anything on that issue, neither for nor against.
“Establishment” did not mean “acknowledgment.”
“Establishment” did not mean believing in Christianity or believing in God.
Establishment was a clearly understood term.
It meant setting up one particular Christian denomination as the official denomination.
With varying levels of official state endorsement and favoritism, countries typically had some kind of established Church:
England had established the Anglican Church;
Sweden had established the Lutheran Church;
Scotland had established the Church of Scotland;
Holland had established the Dutch Reformed Church;
Russia had established the Russian Orthodox Church;
Serbia had established the Serbian Orthodox Church;
Romania had established the Romanian Orthodox Church;
Greece had established the Greek Orthodox Church;
Bulgaria had established the Bulgarian Orthodox Church;
Finland had established the Finnish Orthodox Church;
Ethiopia had established the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church;
Italy, Spain, France, Poland, Austria, Mexico, Costa Rica, Liechtenstein, Malta, Monaco, Vatican City had established the Roman Catholic Church; and
Switzerland had established Calvin’s Ecclesiastical Ordinances.
The attitude of the original 13 States was that they did not want the new Federal Government to follow the pattern of most Western nations and pick one denomination with its headquarters in the Capitol.
Allegorically, they did not want a Federal Walmart Church to come into town and put out of business their individual State “mom & pop department store” denominations.
To make the purpose of the First Amendment unquestionably clear, they went on to state that the Federal Congress could not make a law which prohibited “THE FREE EXERCISE” of religion.
Ronald Reagan stated in a Radio Address, 1982:
“Founding Fathers…enshrined the principle of freedom of religion in the First Amendment…
The purpose of that Amendment was to protect religion from the interference of government and to guarantee, in its own words, ‘the free exercise of religion.'”
Like dealing a deck of cards in a card game, the States dealt to the Federal Government jurisdiction over a few things, like providing for the common defense and regulating interstate commerce, but the rest of the cards were held by the States.
Justice Joseph Story wrote in his Commentaries on the Constitution, 1833:
“The whole power over the subject of religion is left exclusively to the State Governments, to be acted upon according to their own sense of justice and the State Constitutions.”
Just as today some States allow minors to consume alcohol and other States do not; some States allow the selling of marijuana and others do not; some States have smoking bans and others do not; some States allow gambling and others do not, and some States allow prostitution (Nevada and formerly Rhode Island) and the rest do not; at the time the Constitution and Bill of Rights were ratified some States allowed more religious freedom, such as Pennsylvania and Rhode Island, and other States, such as Connecticut and Massachusetts, did not.
But it was up to the people in each State to decide.
Congressman James Meacham of Vermont gave a House Judiciary Committee report, March 27, 1854:
“At the adoption of the Constitution, we believe every State – certainly ten of the thirteen – provided as regularly for the support of the Church as for the support of the Government.”
When did things change?
Charles Darwin theorized that species could evolve.
This inspired a political theorist named Herbert Spencer to suggest that laws could evolve.
This influenced Harvard Law Dean Christopher Columbus Langdell to develop the case precedent method of practicing law, which influenced his student, Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.
The 14th Amendment was passed in 1868 with the original intent to guarantee rights to freed slaves in the Democrat South.
Activist Justices quickly began to use the 14th Amendment very creatively to take jurisdiction away from the States over issues such as unions, strikes, railroads, polygamy, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of assembly.
The freedom of religion was still under each individual State’s jurisdiction until Franklin D. Roosevelt.
FDR was elected President four times, which led to the 22nd Amendment being passed to limit all future Presidents to only two terms.
During his 12 years in office, FDR concentrated power in the Federal Government to an unprecedented degree.
Franklin D. Roosevelt nominated Justice Hugo Black to the Supreme Court in 1937.
Justice Hugo Black concentrated power in the Federal government by taking jurisdiction over religion away from each State.
He did this by simply inserting the phrase “Neither a State” in his 1947 Everson v Board of Education decision:
“The ‘establishment of religion’ clause of the First Amendment means at least this: Neither a State nor the Federal Government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions or prefer one religion over another.”
He conveniently ignored innumerable references to and requirements in the various State Constitutions regarding religion.
In a word, he took the handcuffs off the Federal government and placed them on the States.
After this, Federal Courts began evolving the definition of “religion” away from that originally used by George Mason and James Madison in the Virginia Declaration of Rights, 1776:
“Religion…the duty we owe our Creator and the manner of discharging it.”
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This progression can be seen in several cases.
“ETHICAL” = RELIGION
In 1957, the IRS denied tax-exempt status to an “ethical society” stating it did not qualify as a 501(c)3 tax-exempt “church” or “religious society.”
The case went to the Supreme Court, where Justice Warren Burger wrote in Washington Ethical Society v. District of Columbia (1957):
“We hold on this record and under the controlling statutory language petitioner [The Washington Ethical Society] qualifies as ‘a religious corporation or society’…
It is incumbent upon Congress to utilize this broad definition of religion in all its legislative actions bearing on the support or non-support of religion, within the context of the ‘no-establishment’ clause of the First Amendment.”
“SECULAR HUMANISM” = RELIGION
In 1961, Roy Torcaso wanted to be a notary public in Maryland, but did not want to make “a declaration of belief in the existence of God,” as required by Maryland’s State Constitution, Article 37.
In the Supreme Court case Torcaso v Watkins (1961), Justice Hugo Black included a footnote which has been cited authoritatively in subsequent cases:
“Among religions in this country which do not teach what would generally be considered a belief in the existence of God are Buddhism, Taoism, Ethical Culture, Secular Humanism and others.”
Justice Scalia wrote in Edwards v. Aguillard (1987):
“In Torcaso v. Watkins, 367 U.S. 488, 495, n. 11 (1961), we did indeed refer to ‘SECULAR HUMANISM’ as a ‘religio[n].'”
“A SINCERE AND MEANINGFUL BELIEF” = RELIGION
During the Vietnam War, Mr. Seeger said he could not affirm or deny the existence of a Supreme Being and wanted to be a draft-dodger, claiming to be a conscientious objector under the Universal Military Training and Service Act, Section 6(j) that allowed exemptions for “religious training and belief.”
In United States v Seeger, (1965), U.S. Supreme Court Justice Tom Clark stated:
“The test of religious belief within the meaning in Section 6(j) is whether it is a sincere and meaningful belief occupying in the life of its possessor a place parallel to that filled by the God of those admittedly qualified for the exemption.”
“BELIEFS ABOUT RIGHT AND WRONG” = RELIGION
Another draft-dodger case involved Elliot Welsh. The U.S. Supreme Court, in Welsh v. United States (1970), decided that belief in a “deity” is not necessary to be “religious”:
“Having decided that all religious conscientious objectors were entitled to the exemption, we faced the more serious problem of determining which beliefs were ‘religious’ within the meaning of the statute…
Determining whether the registrant’s beliefs are religious is whether these beliefs play the role of religion and function as a religion in the registrant’s life…
Because his beliefs function as a religion in his life, such an individual is as much entitled to a ‘religious’ conscientious objector exemption under Section 6(j) as is someone who derives his conscientious opposition to the war from traditional religious convictions…
We think it clear that the beliefs which prompted his objection occupy the same place in his life as the belief in a traditional deity holds in the lives of his friends, the Quakers…
A registrant’s conscientious objection to all war is ‘religious’ within the meaning Section 6(j) if this opposition stems from the registrant’s moral, ethical, or religious beliefs about what is right and wrong and these beliefs are held with the strength of traditional religious convictions.”
“ATHEISM” = RELIGION
The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, (W.D. WI) decision in Kaufman v. McCaughtry, August 19, 2005, stated:
“A religion need not be based on a belief in the existence of a supreme being…Atheism may be considered…religion… ‘Atheism is indeed a form of religion…’
The Supreme Court has recognized atheism as equivalent to a ‘religion’ for purposes of the First Amendment…
The Court has adopted a broad definition of ‘religion’ that includes non-theistic and atheistic beliefs, as well as theistic ones…
Atheism is Kaufman’s religion, and the group that he wanted to start was religious in nature even though it expressly rejects a belief in a supreme being.”
Overlooking that the Constitution is only to be changed by Amendments voted in by the majority of the people, the Supreme Court admitted in Wallace v Jaffree (472 U.S. 38, 1985) that the original meaning of the First Amendment was modified “in the crucible of litigation,” a term not mentioned in the Constitution:
“At one time it was thought that this right merely proscribed the preference of one Christian sect over another, but would not require equal respect for the consciences of the infidel, the atheist, or the adherent of a non-Christian faith such as Islam or Judaism.
But when the underlying principle has been examined in the crucible of litigation, the Court has unambiguously concluded that the individual freedom of conscience protected by the First Amendment embraces the right to select any religious faith or none at all.”
The Federal Courts gradually gave the word “religion” a new definition which included “ethical,” “secular humanism,” “a sincere and meaningful belief,” “beliefs about right and wrong,” and “atheism.”
Under this new definition, so as not to prefer one “religion” over another, Federal Courts have prohibited God, which, ironically, has effectively established the religion of atheism in the exact the way the First Amendment was intended to prohibit.
This was warned against by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart in his dissent in Abington Township v. Schempp, 1963:
“The state may not establish a ‘religion of secularism’ in the sense of affirmatively opposing or showing hostility to religion, thus ‘preferring those who believe in no religion over those who do believe’…
Refusal to permit religious exercises thus is seen, not as the realization of state neutrality, but rather as the establishment of a religion of secularism.”
Ronald Reagan referred to this decision in a radio address, February 25, 1984:
“Former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart noted if religious exercises are held to be impermissible activity in schools, religion is placed at an artificial and state-created disadvantage.
Permission for such exercises for those who want them is necessary if the schools are truly to be neutral in the matter of religion. And a refusal to permit them is seen not as the realization of state neutrality, but rather as the establishment of a religion of secularism.”
U.S. District Court, Crockett v. Sorenson, W.D. Va,. 1983:
“The First Amendment was never intended to insulate our public institutions from any mention of God, the Bible or religion. When such insulation occurs, another religion, such as secular humanism, is effectively established.”
Ronald Reagan stated in a Q & A Session, October 13, 1983:
“The First Amendment has been twisted to the point that freedom of religion is in danger of becoming freedom from religion.”
Ronald Reagan stated in a Ceremony for Prayer in Schools, September 25, 1982:
“In the last two decades we’ve experienced an onslaught of such twisted logic that if Alice were visiting America, she might think she’d never left Wonderland.
We’re told that it somehow violates the rights of others to permit students in school who desire to pray to do so. Clearly, this infringes on the freedom of those who choose to pray…
To prevent those who believe in God from expressing their faith is an outrage.”
Is it just a coincidence that the ACLU’s agenda is similar to the Communist agenda read into the Congressional Record, January 10, 1963 by Congressman Albert S. Herlong, Jr., of Florida (Vol 109, 88th Congress, 1st Session, Appendix, pp. A34-A35):
“Eliminate prayer or any phase of religious expression in the schools on the ground that it violates the principle of ‘separation of church and state.'”
Ronald Reagan stated in a Radio Address, 1982:
“The Constitution was never meant to prevent people from praying; its declared purpose was to protect their freedom to pray.”
Judge Richard Suhrheinrich stated in ACLU v Mercer County, 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, December 20, 2005:
“The ACLU makes repeated reference to ‘the separation of church and state.’ This extra-constitutional construct has grown tiresome.
The First Amendment does not demand a wall of separation between church and state. Our nation’s history is replete with governmental acknowledgment and in some case, accommodation of religion.”
The Supreme Court stated in Lynch v Donnelly, 1984:
“The Constitution does not ‘require complete separation of church and state.'”
Associate Justice William Rehnquist wrote in the U.S. Supreme Court case Wallace v. Jafree, 1985, dissent, 472 U. S., 38, 99:
“The ‘wall of separation between church and state’ is a metaphor based on bad history, a metaphor which has proved useless as a guide to judging. It should be frankly and explicitly abandoned.
It is impossible to build sound constitutional doctrine upon a mistaken understanding of Constitutional history…The establishment clause had been expressly freighted with Jefferson’s misleading metaphor for nearly forty years…
There is simply no historical foundation for the proposition that the framers intended to build a wall of separation…Recent court decisions are in no way based on either the language or intent of the framers…
But the greatest injury of the ‘wall’ notion is its mischievous diversion of judges from the actual intentions of the drafters of the Bill of Rights.”
U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart wrote in Engle v Vitale, 1962, dissent:
“The Court…is not aided…by the…invocation of metaphors like the ‘wall of separation,’ a phrase nowhere to be found in the Constitution.”
In the U.S. Supreme Court decision, McCullum v Board of Education, it stated:
“Rule of law should not be drawn from a figure of speech.”
Justice William O’Douglas wrote in Zorach v Clausen, 1952:
“The First Amendment, however, does not say that in every and all respects there shall be a separation of Church and State…
We find no constitutional requirement which makes it necessary for government to be hostile to religion and to throw its weight against efforts to widen the effective scope of religious influence…
We cannot read into the Bill of Rights such a philosophy of hostility to religion.”
Ronald Reagan told the Annual Convention of the National Religious Broadcasters, January 30, 1984:
“I was pleased last year to proclaim 1983 the Year of the Bible. But, you know, a group called the ACLU severely criticized me for doing that. Well, I wear their indictment like a badge of honor.”
Are anti-faith groups using the evolved interpretation of the First Amendment to take away the liberties which the original First Amendment was intended to guarantee?
Dwight Eisenhower is quoted in the TIME Magazine article, “Eisenhower on Communism,” October 13, 1952:
“The Bill of Rights contains no grant of privilege for a group of people to destroy the Bill of Rights.
A group – like the Communist conspiracy – dedicated to the ultimate destruction of all civil liberties, cannot be allowed to claim civil liberties as its privileged sanctuary from which to carry on subversion of the Government.”
Ronald Reagan worded it differently on the National Day of Prayer, May 6, 1982:
“Well-meaning Americans in the name of freedom have taken freedom away. For the sake of religious tolerance, they’ve forbidden religious practice.”
Ronald Reagan stated at an Ecumenical Prayer Breakfast, August 23, 1984:
“The frustrating thing is that those who are attacking religion claim they are doing it in the name of tolerance and freedom and open-mindedness. Question: Isn’t the real truth that they are intolerant of religion?”
Did Jefferson intend to outlaw the acknowledgment of God and limit students, teachers, coaches, chaplains, schools, organizations, and communities from public religious expression?
In light of mandates in President’s Healthcare law which forces individuals to violate their religious beliefs or be subject to “temporal punishments” for non-compliance, it is incumbent upon Americans to read again the words of Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom:
“Almighty God hath created the mind free, and…all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments…are a departure from the plan of the Holy Author of religion…
That to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves is sinful and tyrannical…
That therefore the proscribing any citizen as unworthy the public confidence, by laying upon him an incapacity…unless he profess or renounce this or that religious opinion, is depriving him injuriously of those privileges and advantages, to which…he has a natural right…
That to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion…is a dangerous fallacy which at once destroys all religious liberty because he being of course judge of that tendency will make his opinions the rule of judgment and approve or condemn the sentiments of others only as they shall square with or differ from his own…
Be it enacted by General Assembly that no man…shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burdened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief,
but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of Religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge or affect their civil capacities.”
Ronald Reagan addressed the Alabama State Legislature, March 15, 1982:
“The First Amendment of the Constitution was not written to protect the people of this country from religious values; it was written to protect religious values from government tyranny.”
The Moral Liberal contributing editor, William J. Federer, is the bestselling author of “Backfired: A Nation Born for Religious Tolerance no Longer Tolerates Religion,” and numerous other books. A frequent radio and television guest, his daily American Minute is broadcast nationally via radio, television, and Internet. Check out all of Bill’s books here.
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