On this past Thursday, May 4th, 2017, which was also the National Day Of Prayer (first established by President Harry Truman…a Democrat…and later designated to be the first Thursday of each May by President Ronald Reagan…a Republican), President Trump signed an Executive Order that is in line with what most previous Presidents and the Founders of our nation have done for over two hundred and thirty years now, protecting “religious freedom and free speech” in this country.
This order overturned the Johnson Amendment of 1954, which prohibited churches, clergy and religious organizations from engaging in political speech, under the threat of losing their tax exempt status if they did not comply (talk about the federal govt. limiting the Constitutional rights of individual Americans, WOW). This amendment followed the Supreme Court ruling of 1947 that changed the understanding of the Constitution, in particular, the understanding of the Establisment Clause, from what was the historic understanding that “government should not be involved in matters of the church” to the modern twist, “the church should not be involved in the matters of government.” This new interpetation was given the deceptive name of “separation of church and state”, as if there were some sort of invisible wall there, keeping the two sets of ideals and precepts completely separate and free from the influence of the other.
Of course, the Founders never created such a wall and to be honest, it would be impossible to keep the two complete free of each other, since the laws of the land often deal with moral and ethical issues (so how do you keep God out of those discussions) and churches are governed by many laws, state, local and, of course, federal statutes. The Bible, itself, says that “all authority is from God” (even government) and that we are to “submit to all governing authorities”. So to expect the governement to function well and in the best interest of the people they represent, without the blessing, providence and guidance of a benevolent and just God is really quite unrealistic, if you ask me.
On the other hand, it was the federal government that provided for the legal protections for the right of religious freedom (and the right to freedom of expression), so since government allowed for it, people of faith and faith-based organizations are dependent on government to keep those protections in place. So to suggest that the two were intended to be independent of each other, that would be a view that was considered out of the question, prior to the SCOTUS decision from seventy years ago.
Now, at the risk of dating myself, here (a little late for that I’d say..lol..I’ve been pretty much dated for awhile now), I grew up watching the Flintstones, the most famous residents (along with the Rubbles) of the city of Bedrock. They were and are probably still the “poster family” for all things pre-historic. Pebbles and Bam-Bam were the cool kids on the block, and who didn’t love Fred’s car? I still would have loved to try one of those Brontosaurus burgers. Wouldn’t you?
The reason I bring up the Flinstones and the fabled city of Bedrock is because the whole idea of redefining the Constitution and the especially the Establishment Clause, started with the likes of Woodrow Wilson (almost exactly 100 years ago), who believed the Constitution was outdated (or pre-historic, if you will) and needed to be revised from time to time to reflect the changes in society. This was part of what was called “The a Progressive Movement.” Those sentiments grew over the next thirty or forty years, resulting in the SCOTUS decision and not long after that, the Lyndon Johnson Amendment came to be in 1954.
I think this idea of an ever-changing Constitution, one that reflects a more modern society, became the tool that enabled attacks on religious freedom and led to horrific decisions that delivered severe blows to our life and liberty like, removing prayer from schools, legalizing “abortion on demand” and legalizing “same sex marriage”. If this movement has been progressive at all, I would say, “Sure, progressively worse.”
A belief in God was instrumental in the first settlers coming to America from Britain, as they sought relief from the Church Of England (which is why they felt is was so important to keep the government out of the matters of faith). They knew the damaging effects of the heavy hand of government having too much say on what the church believes and practices. They firmly wanted to keep the government out of church matters and religious freedom in the New World, not the other way around. And of course, that is what the Constitution reflects. It was not something they wanted to see being tinkered with everytime an ambitious new President and Congress got elected. That is why there was such a high bar for adding Constitutional Amendments. The Founders worked very hard to come up with language that would stand the test of time, not be marginalized and reconfigured every so often like the body style of a new Chevrolet. No, the Constituion was made to last. It was made to endure change and still be relevant.
What President Trump did today, was speak up for Americans who had been muzzled by their own government. Other groups who receive tax dollars from the govt. can speak politically without retribution. Planned Parenthood does it. Community organizations do it. Unions are non-profit and they certainly speak out politically. Heck, the political parties do it and they receive tax dollars to help fund their campaigns. So why should a church or religious organization not have the same right to free speech?
You know, back when I first started watching the Flinstones, I really didn’t know what “bedrock” was. I thought it was just a funny name for a pre-historic city. Bedrock. It just sounds cool!! But I now believe that our core belief in God and our right to pray, worship, obey and serve the God or belief system we choose (including “none at all..thank you very much!!”) is the bedrock, the solid foundation on which our American society was founded and built.
For almost 100 years now, our religious freedoms have been under attack. And both Republican and Democrat Presidents have allowed it to happen on their watch (some more than others, of course). I am just thankful that President Trump said, “Enough is enough. It stops right here and right now.”
Let’s take a look at what some of our earliest Presidents had to say about our dependency, as a nation and a people, on God and religion:
“Whereas it becomes us humbly to approach the throne of Almighty God, with gratitude and praise for the wonders which his goodness has wrought in conducting our forefathers to this western world…and above all, that he hath diffused the glorious light of the gospel, whereby, through the merits of our gracious Redeemer, we may become the heirs of his eternal glory.” [from George Washington’s General Orders, November 27, 1779]
”Without religion this world would be something not fit to be mentioned in polite company, I mean Hell.” [ from John Adams, a letter to Thomas Jefferson, Apr. 19, 1817.]
“If God is just, I tremble for my country.” [Thomas Jefferson]
“Heaven has given to every human being the power of controlling his passions, and if he neglects or loses it, the fault is his own, and he must be answerable for it.” [John Quincy Adams]
And there are many, many more quotes like that from almost every one of our Presidents.
The involvement of God in government and politics is not new. It has been there from the beginning. Why would you want to limit the free speech of any good and law-abiding Americans?
What is there to be afraid of?
Belief in God is our foundation, our bedrock.
Without it we will collapse.
(author of “Unlocking Creation”)