Our pre­cious free­doms

Walker County Messenger - - Front Page - Ge­orge Reed Jr. An his­tor­i­cal per­spec­tive

some de­scrip­tion. But many of them had also wit­nessed first-hand what can hap­pen when re­li­gion falls into the hands of am­bi­tious clergy and over-zeal­ous con­gre­ga­tions. Our found­ing fa­thers were wary of this pos­si­bil­ity and stu­diously avoided any gov­ern­men­tre­li­gion en­tan­gle­ments.

Prod­ded by Vir­ginia Bap­tists who had suf­fered per­se­cu­tion by the es­tab­lished Angli­can/ Epis­co­pal Church, James Madi­son, the “Fa­ther of the Con­sti­tu­tion” and our fourth pres­i­dent, in­tro­duced the Sep­a­ra­tion Clause into the First Amend­ment. In an­swer to Pa­trick Henry’s pro­posal to fund the teach­ing of re­li­gion, Madi­son ar­gued “Who does not see that the same author­ity which can es­tab­lish Chris­tian­ity in ex­clu­sion of all other reli­gions, may es­tab­lish with the same ease any par­tic­u­lar sect of Chris­tians in ex­clu­sion of all other sects.” In speak­ing to free­dom from re­li­gion, an idea that drives to­day’s fun­da­men­tal­ists into apoplexy, Madi­son wrote “While we as­sert for our­selves a free­dom to em­brace, to pro­fess and to ob­serve the re­li­gion which we be­lieve to be of di­vine ori­gin, we can­not deny an equal free­dom to those whose minds have not yet yielded to the ev­i­dence that has con­vinced us.” Both Madi­son and Henry were be­liev­ing, prac­tic­ing (Epis­co­palian) Chris­tians.

In an­other venue James Madi­son wrote, “Ex­pe­ri­ence wit­nesses that ec­cle­si­as­ti­cal es­tab­lish­ments, in­stead of main­tain­ing the pu­rity and ef­fi­cacy of re­li­gion, have had a con­trary oper­a­tion. Dur­ing al­most fif­teen cen­turies has the le­gal es­tab­lish­ment of re­li­gion been on trial. What have been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and in­do­lence in the clergy, ig­no­rance and ser­vil­ity in the laity, in both, su­per­sti­tion, big­otry and per­se­cu­tion. . . . Rulers who wished to sub­vert the public lib­erty may have found an es­tab­lished clergy con­ve­nient aux­il­iaries.” Sound like any­body we might know to­day?

If our found­ing fa­thers had in­tended for Chris­tian­ity to be the es­tab­lished re­li­gion of the new na­tion they would have clearly so stated in the Con­sti­tu­tion. And they clearly did not. And to clear up an­other pop­u­lar mis­ap­pre­hen­sion: If the del­e­gates had in­tended that in­di­vid­ual states have the right to se­cede from the Fed­eral Union they would have spec­i­fied the pro­ce­dure by which such se­ces­sion could be ac­com­plished. Se­ces­sion rights and pro­ce­dures are con­spic­u­ous by their ab­sence in the Con­sti­tu­tion.

Peo­ple who con­tin­u­ally mis­quote or mis­un­der­stand the Con­sti­tu­tion and/or the Bi­ble have prob­a­bly read nei­ther.

Ge­orge B. Reed Jr., who lives in Rossville, can be reached by email at reed1600@bel­lsouth.net.

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