A Brief History of the First Amendment…
After the reformation, Europe eventually settled into a religious system of state churches and in order to get along you needed to be a member of the state sanctioned denomination or risk persecution. For instance, Germany was Lutheran; Switzerland was Calvinist; Scotland was Presbyterian; England wasAnglican, France was Roman Catholic, etc.
The Pilgrims, having separated from the Church of England, rather than facing continued persecution, fled to America for Christian liberty. “…Having undertaken for the Glory of God, and Advancement of the Christian Faith, and the Honour of our King and Country, a voyage to plant the first colony in the northern parts of Virginia…” (Excerpt from the Mayflower Compact).
Over the following decades, tens of thousands followed from Europe to America for religious liberty. Unfortunately, America became very similar to what they left in Europe as different states had denominational ties – Massachusetts was Puritan, Pennsylvania was Quaker, Rhode Island was Baptist, Connecticut was Congregationalist, etc., etc. – and in order to get along you needed to be a part of that state’s denomination.
Then, the “Great Awakening” took place as men like Jonathon Edwards and George Whitefield preached with conviction and tens of thousands realized that salvation was not the result of denominational membership, but by a genuine act of repentance and commitment of faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ – not in joining a particular sect, but by being “born again”.
One of Whitefield’s illustrations follows: “Father Abraham, whom have you in heaven? Any Episcopalians? No! Any Presbyterians? No! Have you any Independents or Seceders? No! Have you any Methodists? No! No! No! Whom have you there? We don’t know those names here! All who are here are Christians.”
The colonists began “tolerating” one another as they may have had minor doctrinal beliefs, but they were unified in their faith of One God – manifest as Father, Son, and Holy Ghost – and that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament were the perfect, inerrant Word of God.
Our founding fathers realized that God had ordained human government with the divine responsibility not to bestow rights but to protect and ensure the rights that God had given to man. It was for this reason that the Continental Congress came together and penned this historic document Declaring America’sIndependence:
When in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God (According to the Blackstone Commentary of Law means the “will of God as revealed in the Old and New Testament”) entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created (by God) equal, that they are endowed by their Creator (God) with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness…We, therefore, the Representatives of the United States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States… And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.
This new government was born as the “United States of America.” The Articles of Confederation were ratified in 1781 creating a loose framework within which the now independent thirteen states could work together; but the new republic’s political leaders soon realized there were some deficiencies that needed to be worked out.
“In order to form a more perfect Union…” the members of the Constitutional Convention debated, drafted, and ratified the Constitution of the United States of America. The “Bill of Rights” was added during the new governments first summer in order to protect the citizens from this government, which they created.
The very first amendment of the Bill of Rights ensured that “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”. The words “separation of church and state” do not appear in the First Amendment or in any official governing document. The First Amendment clearly prohibits the Congress from establishing a particular National Christian Denomination or oppressing those that are of a different denomination.
After the election of our first President, George Washington, a devout Episcopalian, citizens across America wondered if he was going to choose a national denomination. He wrote letters to at least fourteen different denominations assuring them that that would never happen. Consider this excerpt from written to the General Committee of the United Baptist Churches of Virginia, May 10, 1789, just ten days after his swearing in:
…If I could have entertained the slightest apprehension that the Constitution framed by the Convention, where I had the honor to preside, might possibly endanger the religious rights of any ecclesiastical Society (denomination), certainly I would never have placed my signature on it…
To the Protestant Episcopal Church, Washington wrote on August 19, 1789:
It affords edifying prospects, indeed, to see Christians of different denominations dwell together in more charity, and conduct themselves in respect to each other with a more Christian-like spirit than every they have done in any former age, or in any other nation.
Thomas Jefferson, our nation’s third President, was welcomed to office by similar letters. On January 1, 1802, Jefferson wrote this now famous letter in response to the Danbury, Connecticut Baptist Association, the second paragraph reads:
Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.
Very clearly, the protection was offered to the church with the assurance that each Christian denomination could practice their Christian faith freely without being taken over and subjugated by the Federal Government. Consider these recent statements by the United States 6th Circuit Court of Appeals and from Judge William Rehnquist, former Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court:
“This extraconstitutional 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 cases, accommodation of religion.”….
Ruling by the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals on Dec. 20, 2005.
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.” Supreme Court Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist
TOLERANCE: According to the 1828 Edition of Noah Webster’s Dictionary, “tolerance” does not mean accepting sin and/or endorsing deviant behavior.
It was different Christian Religious Denominations tolerating each other…a progressive concept, not found in Europe, but born in the United States of America.
1828 Definition: “TOLERATION: The act of tolerating; the allowance of that which is not wholly approved; appropriately, the allowance of religious opinions and modes of worship in a state, when contrary to or different from those of the established church or belief. Toleration implies a right in the sovereign to control men in their opinions and worship, or it implies the actual exercise of power in such control. Where no power exists or none is assumed to establish a creed and a mode of worship, there can be no toleration, in the strict sense of the word, for one religious denomination has as good a right as another to the free enjoyment of its creed and worship.”
The definition of “tolerance” has become severely abused of late. We have no “right” in America to do that which is wrong.
RELIGION: Please notice part 4 differentiates between “false” religion and “true” Christian denominations.
1. Religion, in its most comprehensive sense, includes a belief in the being and perfections of God, in the revelation of his will to man, in man’s obligation to obey his commands, in a state of reward and punishment, and in man’s accountableness to God; and also true godliness or piety of life, with the practice of all moral duties. It therefore comprehends theology, as a system of doctrines or principles, as well as practical piety; for the practice of moral duties without a belief in a divine lawgiver, and without reference to his will or commands, is not religion.
2. Religion, as distinct from theology, is godliness or real piety in practice, consisting in the performance of all known duties to God and our fellow men, in obedience to divine command, or from love to God and his law. James 1.
3. Religion, as distinct from virtue, or morality, consists in the performance of the duties we owe directly to God, from a principle of obedience to his will. Hence we often speak of religion and virtue, as different branches of one system, or the duties of the first and second tables of the law. Let us with caution indulge the supposition, that morality can be maintained without religion.
4. Any system of faith and worship. In this sense, religion comprehends the belief and worship of pagans and Mohammedans, as well as of Christians; any religion consisting in the belief of a superior power or powers governing the world, and in the worship of such power or powers. Thus we speak of the religion of the Turks, of the Hindus, of the Indians, etc,. as well as of the Christian religion. We speak of false religion, as well as of true religion.