Two situations. In one, people were asked to attend a graduation ceremony in a comfortable church auditorium with air-conditioning and comfortable chairs. In the other, a person was tortured and killed for holding religious beliefs.
Which one do you think represents the evil that our first amendment was meant to prohibit?
It was 50 years ago (September 12, 1960) that John F. Kennedy gave his now famous speech to the Houston Ministerial Society. When JFK was running for President that year, he was facing severe criticism for being a Roman Catholic. And so during this speech, he emphatically declared that his faith would be separate from his duties as President.
I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute…. I believe in a President whose religious views are his own private affair, neither imposed by him upon the nation or imposed by the nation upon him as a condition to holding that office….
I am not going to opine at length now about how idiotic it is to claim that a politician can separate his or her religious beliefs from civic duty. A person of faith cannot separate religious beliefs from his or her thoughts and actions any more than you can separate your central nervous system from your body. Your faith, if genuine, controls your every move, your every thought. Faith is not something you “put on” when convenient. Either you are a person of faith, or not.
But I do want to comment on this perverted misunderstanding of the concept of “separation of church and state.” Today, groups like the ACLU and Americans United for Separation of Church and State laud JFK’s speech for stating that there is an “absolute separation” between church and state. They have used this misguided phrase to justify a purging of all things religious from the public square.
Voluntary student prayer in the public schools? According to the ACLU, this violates the separation of church and state.
Prayers before Congressional sessions? The ACLU says no.
Ten Commandments monuments on display in front of the Courthouse? The ACLU believes this is offensive and thus violates the separation of church and state.
A public high school graduation being held in a comfortable church auditorium? Not if the ACLU has its way!
But really, was the concept of separation of church and state meant to prohibit graduations in comfortable church auditoriums? Was the genesis of this idea to clean up government lawns from being overcrowded with monuments?
No! These things are all examples of living everyday life in a society where people have religious beliefs. Rather, our founders were trying to prohibit the kind of punishment for religious beliefs like what happened to Michael Sattler.
Michael was a leader of the Anabaptist movement in the 16th Century, and held several beliefs that were not shared by the ruling government of his day. In America, our Constitution protects the right to hold beliefs that are not shared by the mainstream. This was not the case in Michael’s day.
And so because of his beliefs concerning baptism, he was arrested as a heretic. He was tried and convicted. His sentence for holding these beliefs? Death.
But he was not sentenced to an ordinary death. His tongue was cut out to prevent him from giving his testimony during his burning. Flesh from his body was torn with red hot tongs. He was drug by a wagon across the town. And this torture was concluded by being burned at the stake.
All of this – because of his beliefs. This is why we have religious freedom in America. We do not have religious freedom so that our religious history can be sandblasted from government buildings.
The First Amendment was not meant to force graduation ceremonies to be held in crowded gymnasiums rather than a comfortable church auditorium. Our Constitution was not meant to prohibit politicians, who possess Christian beliefs, from using that moral base to enact sound laws for this nation.
This type of thinking is a mockery to the real harm inflicted on our ancestors because of their religious beliefs.
Groups like the ACLU will argue, “But it’s a slippery slope. Once you allow graduations to be held in comfortable plush chairs in an air-conditioned auditorium, then you are only one step away from dragging a person through town behind a wagon, tearing his body with fire hot tongs, and burning his body at the stake.”
The lunacy of this comparison is self evident. But there is a slippery slope involved here. And that is this – by following the road the ACLU would have us follow, we will end up being a nation whose children know nothing of our religious heritage, and where all things religious are banned from the public square because they might offend someone.
It’s time to remember what religious freedom is really all about.
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