What Is Actually Protected Under the First Amendment

We’ve all heard the protests: “Separation of church and State! You can’t post the 10 Commandments in a courthouse! You can’t have Jesus in a Christmas play in a public school! That would violate the First Amendment!” Really? Have any of the people making such proclamations read the First Amendment, or what any of the founders said in regard to the relationship between the church and the state? Time for a dose of truth by way of a brief history lesson.

Wake-up call: The words “separation of church and State” appear nowhere in any founding document. The First Amendment says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”

Let’s think this through. Allow me to ask (and answer) a few questions:

  • To whom is this amendment addressed? (Answer – Congress)
  • Can a child violate this amendment by writing a paper about Jesus? (Answer – no. Why? Because they aren’t Congress.)
  • Can a teacher violate this amendment by reading or teaching from the Bible? (Answer – no. Why? Because they aren’t Congress.)
  • Can a school violate this amendment by putting on a Christmas play or Easter pageant? (Answer – no. Why? Because they aren’t Congress…are you beginning to see a trend here?)
  • Can local government officials violate this amendment by displaying the 10 Commandments, a cross, or a nativity scene at a courthouse or anywhere on government property? (Answer – no. Why? Because they aren’t Congress.)
  • Who is the only one who can violate the First Amendment? (Answer – Congress. Individuals cannot. Schools cannot. Local governments cannot.)
  • Lastly, what is the only way Congress can violate it? (Answer – By making a law to establish a particular denomination, or to make a law abridging any individual’s free exercise of their religious beliefs.)

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John Adams said, “…it is religion and morality alone which can establish the principles upon which freedom can securely stand.” Does this sound like John Adams thought religion and government (which protects our freedom) would be at odds with each other? Hardly. Rather, his words re-state what the founders put in the Declaration of Independence about the relationship between church and state – that America’s government system would be based upon the laws of Nature and Nature’s God. This was a clear collaboration of religion and government as the founders understood these terms – the laws of Nature and Nature’s God – to be the 10 commandments and your God-given conscience. In other words, religion lays the foundation for government and law.

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However, both John Adams’ statement and the brief exposition of the clear, simple meaning of the First Amendment, still brings up an often asked question – Whose religion? Should you teach exclusively Biblical tenets in school? Should all American law be based only on the Christian religion, or should we be more inclusive and also use the tenets of Buddhists, Muslims, Satanists, Humanists, et al?

The answer may astound many, but Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story clarified what religion was protected under the First Amendment in A Familiar Exposition of the Constitution of the United States, 1840. He wrote: “The real object of the First Amendment was not to countenance, much less to advance Mohammedanism, or Judaism, or infidelity, by prostrating Christianity, but to exclude all rivalry among Christian sects and to prevent…the exclusive patronage of the national government [to any particular Christian denomination].”

What a revelation! Time to push back and remove the muzzle from Christian expression in public. Time to educate and stand up for what our founders and founding documents really say about church and state. America is a Christian nation because it was founded under Christian principles such as kindness, loyalty, integrity, honesty. Other religious beliefs are tolerated in America, but only if their practices conform to the laws of Nature and Nature’s God.

Christian citizens in every arena – public school students, teachers, government workers, pastors, etc. – do not relinquish their First Amendment rights to free exercise of their religion in any public setting. Let’s bring God back front and center to every area of our lives, including school and government! What would America look like if Church and State began to act more like cohorts, not combatants?

Something to think about.

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