It is difficult to imagine that our founding fathers envisioned that the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America would be used to justify discrimination against any person or persons or to provide an exemption from compliance with the laws of the land.
The Constitution was adopted to guarantee the rights of citizens to choose how they wish to live their lives and to protect them against abuses by their government. Such protections were a high priority of the framers of our Constitution given that so many of their families had fled to America to escape such abuses. The Bill of Rights refers to amendments to the constitution that were intended to define the rights that were considered to be most precious to a free people.
The First Amendment specified freedom of religion, free speech, freedom of the press, freedom to peacefully assemble, and “to petition the government for redress of grievances.” With specific reference to freedom of religion, the intent was that not only are citizens free to choose their religion but also that the government is prevented from interfering with those choices.
Annually, at Christmas and Easter, we hear complaints that the refusal to grant permission to have displays of Christian worship symbols within or on the grounds of public buildings is somehow an infringement of the religious freedom of Christians.
This is a clear misinterpretation of the First Amendment. Our government’s obligation is to protect our right to decide how we worship, not play favorites. Public buildings belong to Jews, Muslim, and practitioners of other religions every bit as much as they belong to Christians and these American have every right to object to those symbols being placed on property funded with their tax dollars.
That Christianity has long been the dominant religion in the U.S. makes it that much more important that Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus and others be protected from persecution or domination by Christians. Christians have no right to preferential treatment, their claims that the U.S. is a Christian nation notwithstanding.
The truth, today, is that the other religions of the world have become and will continue to become more prevalent in American society. While the adjustment to this reality may not come easily to Christians, it is an adjustment that cannot be avoided if we are to remain a free society.
Recent proposals to restrict the freedoms of Muslims, in the aftermath of both domestic and international terrorism by radical Islamic terrorist groups, proves the vital importance of such Constitutional protections. Imagine infringing on the rights of Christians, for example, following terrorist acts committed by armed anti-government militia groups who profess to be radical Christians executing the wrath of God.
History has shown that human beings, Christians included, are capable of horrific acts of violence against other human beings. Each and every one of us deserves the same protections under the law from individuals or groups that lay claim to the Divine right to pass judgment on their fellow man.
The same would be true for the rights of gays and lesbians. To think that we could use our constitutional right to freedom of religion to justify discrimination against any population of Americans, including gays and lesbians and now transgenders, is scary. The American Congress, as duly empowered by the Constitution, has passed legislation prohibiting discrimination in public accommodations in the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and these laws have been found to be Constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court. Claiming that religious freedom grants one license to disregard the law of the land is a frightening prospect in a free society, no matter who does the proclaiming.
The United States of America may well be one nation, under God but it is for individual citizens to determine how they wish to profess their faith and beliefs, or not at all.