Opinion: From the Right: “Freedom of Religion, Freedom from Religion”

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“Freedom of Religion, Freedom from Religion”

From the Right

by Don Schmitz 

The last few weeks have seen more watershed Supreme Court (SCOTUS) decisions than in living memory, and public reaction has been vociferous. Protests, editorials, interviews, loud rhetoric, and analysis dominate the airwaves on reproductive rights and the 2nd amendment. Lost in all the noise, however, has been the important decision in Carson v. Makin, which centered around whether the State of Maine could provide tuition assistance for students to attend public or private schools while prohibiting students from using those funds to attend sectarian schools.

The debate on topic centers on the 1st amendment of the Constitution, which states in part, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Liberals tend to focus on the first part, Conservatives on the second, but both are essential to liberty. 

SCOTUS seeks to balance the application of the 1st amendment to new laws. James Madison was the chief author of the Bill of Rights, ardently championing religious liberty. Ensconced in our Constitution is the principle that the majority must respect the rights of the minority. Madison fought successfully against legislation in 1785 that would have made Christianity the de facto state religion for Virginia, which is reflected in the first sentence of the 1st amendment. He also stated, “The civil rights of none shall be abridged on account of religious belief or worship,” Hence the second sentence. Lastly, he tied it all together, stating, “I have ever regarded the freedom of religious opinions and worship as equally belonging to every sect…” Simply put, it is improper for the government to establish any particular religion, but freedom of religion doesn’t mean freedom from religion. Unfortunately, in their zeal to protect religious minorities from being forced into a majority perspective, the left has swung too far, endeavoring to drive God from the public square. 

In the Maine tuition assistance program, the money could be spent by parents for any school inside or outside the state, public schools, or private schools. The private schools could be any accredited program, academies, one gender, military schools, anything, just not religious schools. This explicit exclusion of religious instruction is clearly improper. “The State pays tuition for certain students at private schools—so long as the schools are not religious. That is discrimination against religion,” Justice Roberts wrote. As the tuition money will now be available to all students to attend any public or private school, it doesn’t run afoul of the establishment clause. Parents and students can spend the tuition money to attend a public school, or any private school of their choice, religious or secular. It is clearly the free exercise of religion, so what is the angst on the left? 

Some of our liberal friends have devolved from prudent watchdogs to rabid anti-religious attack dogs, overtly hostile against religion. Voluntary prayer in school should be banned (SCOTUS just ruled on that, too); Nativity scenes and Menorahs around the holidays offend them, and democrats in their 2012 convention removed the concept of God from their platform. Pew Research reports only 45 percent of Democrats believe in the God of the bible. Now in our free Country, consistent with the beliefs of Madison and the founders, I will ardently defend the rights of my liberal countrymen to hold such beliefs or to believe in nothing at all. That is their right, as enshrined in the first amendment. However, their increasingly strident demands to drive God out of the public square is ill-conceived, to be resisted, and is in fact, unconstitutional. The moral fabric of our free society is indeed founded in the deeply held truths of our Western religious traditions and reflected in the Constitution itself. John Adams stated, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

Our Country was founded on the principle that our individual freedoms come from God, not the government. Two hundred forty-six years ago, we declared our independence, stating, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.” Creator, as in God. The foundational cornerstone of our free republic. Many conservatives point to the current turmoil in our Country as the inevitable result of the successful campaign by the secular radicals to break America’s religious moral compass. It is time to drop the paranoid antipathy against our religious citizenry and get back to the brilliant balance of the first amendment, which the ruling in Carson v Makin accomplishes. Government shouldn’t establish a religion, but neither should it penalize and fight for its free exercise. Liberals and Conservatives must unite on this point. “One cannot walk with just the left foot or just the right foot; one needs both.” Abhijit Naskar