Each year at this time we celebrate the various freedoms that our nation bestows. We gather in a spirit of conviviality around barbeques, fireworks, concerts, and civic events. Yet amidst the easy summer ambiance, one feels the chill of an advancing tumult. I refer to another season of celebration when the now verdant lawns will be covered with snow, a season when religious freedom rings with controversy. Nearly half the year will have to pass before the clamoring begins over Nativity scenes, Christmas carols, and other expressions of faith that may be situated upon a civic stage. This upheaval raises the question: What in the American character is dependent on the spirituality of the nation? Does the wall of separation coined by Roger Williams and later stated by Thomas Jefferson denote the obliteration of any influence or relationship between Church and State?
In reaching an opinion on these questions, a fresh look at the First Amendment is in order. The text states that, Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. The freedoms of speech, press, and assembly are mentioned later on. Judging from the opinion of some in this country today, one would construe that the government was under siege by America's religious institutions. However, the intent of the beliefs held in Colonial times and the position of the Founding Fathers was not to protect the State from Religion, but to protect Religion from the State. The government was not to establish belief in a particular religion or to make laws inhibiting the freedom of religious practice. The ubiquitous presence and the vital contributions of religion has been an essential part of the American character from the very beginning of the nation.
Undoubtedly, democracy and capitalism are far from perfect political and economic systems, yet they represent, arguably, the most beneficial social structures established by humankind to this point. Religious influence on the consciences and moral values of those who operate within these entities and make them function provide effective safeguards against unbridled abuse and exploitation. Operative within the ideals contained in the most treasured documents of our country and the processes of good government are the teachings proclaimed in the Scriptures. Today, we may have to squint and, otherwise, strain our spiritual vision to find evidence of this biblical imprint. Therein resides the struggle and the impetus to make virtue dwell in the corridors of government.
The moral values of the great religious traditions, which have sustained and enriched world cultures through the ages, should not be exiled from the public square because of a metaphor [wall of separation] whose true meaning has been distorted by some who possess an abiding hostility to religious influence on the public agenda. The public square needs to hear the voices of a religiously based morality, so that public affairs may be nourished by the ideals of justice and equity. These ideals have inspired the struggle for emancipation of the slave, integration of the races, and equality of the sexes.
- The Hon. Edward F. Harrington, United States Senior District Judge
The need for a benign understanding of the policies of America by the nations of the world should be clear to us all. If the leaderships of other governments view the motive of America's desire to establish relationships with them as solely for the purpose of profit, manipulation, or, even, imperialism, it should be predictable that they would regard the United States with distrust, disdain, or even worse. One leader of a country in Africa stated recently, "We view America as a pack of wolves." All people and, therefore, all governments are tainted with the potential for injustice and other evils. Nevertheless, it is right and proper for the American soul to be impelled toward global attitudes of fairness, honesty, and mutual well being. In 1985, Pope John Paul II speaking to an audience of 80,000 Muslim youth in Casablanca, Morocco proposed that religious faith, not secular indifference or neutrality toward religion, was the most secure ground for religious liberty and the environment that would safeguard respect for human rights.
The moral goodness and strength of America is rooted in its religious foundations. Among the precious freedoms in which we rejoice, we must cherish our religious freedom and its gifts. Let us promote the theme of celebration not separation.
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