This morning I woke up thinking about the U.S. Constitution. I have often been troubled by the majority understanding of the First Amendment. The modern day understanding of the idea of “Separation of Church and State” stems from how people read the first part of the First Amendment and other documents that are not a part of the U.S Constitution. I also realized that the founding Father’s of the United States made the First Amendment first. Yes, I am the Master of the Obvious. The First Amendment was ratified before the 2nd Amendment (right to bear arms) or even the 3rd Amendment (prohibiting soldiers from staying in houses against the home owners wishes). This simple fact shows the weight of the First Amendment. The importance of the content of the First Amendment.
Here is the short and simple text of the First Amendment. If you haven’t ever read it before, you will be surprised by how easy it is to understand. I think we often suspect the Constitution to be really complicated since we have so many ‘interpretations’ of it.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
So what is being said here?
1. Congress shall make no law that would establish a religion.
—- what this means is that congress by law is unable to create a religion that would be the religion of the United States. (sort of like the Church of England was for England) Basically this means the Government can not and will not ever force you to belong to or practice and given religion. Due to this it is clear that we should not consider the United States an official “Christian Nation”. It would be more accurate to say that there are a lot of Christians in the United States, and we have a Christian heritage but the Government has not and will not ever establish an actual religion for the United States, not even Christianity.
2. Congress shall make no law prohibiting the practice of any religion.
—– this is the portion that I strongly feel is being ignored and left out by a lot of Americans and politicians (yes, I guess the politicians are Americans too…) The First Amendment is clear that the U.S. Government will never, in any way, create a law that would prohibit our free exercise of religion. This should certainly include our right to pray, even publicly, and in a structure built with U.S Tax Dollars. So how many laws should exist that would prohibit anyones free exercise of religion? Zero. This includes laws that would prohibit the free exercise of Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, and yes even Christianity. Christians should be protected under the First Amendment of the Constitution.
3. Congress shall make no law that would abridge our freedom of speech.
—– I find this interesting that freedom of speech comes directly after stating that no laws would be created to prohibit religious practice. What this Amendment is saying is that the Government will make no laws that would amend, abridge, or censor what someone says. We can say whatever we want. This would certainly include talk against the government, but also to talk about our faith and religious beliefs. The US Government by the First Amendment can not create any laws that would forbid you from discussing your faith with anyone.
4. Congress shall make no law that would abridge the freedom of speech for the press.
—– Basically this says even the media can say whatever they want. They can publish negative articles about the government, and the government by law can not do anything about it. This would also include writing about faith and religion, literally anything. Freedom of the Press. If the US Government were to ever intervene with the Press to hush a story, the government would be breaking the law.
5. Congress will make no law that would prohibit people from being able to assemble peacefully.
—— This includes Church services, and also would include any other assembly that is not violent. This gives every American the right to be in groups, large or small. We can talk about the Government in those groups, we can talk about faith in those groups, we can assemble in huge gatherings or small. Our Government by law can do nothing to prevent us from assembling regardless of the topic matter as long as we are being peaceful. When we go to the streets with rocks, guns, bats or any other thing that can be used as a weapon we the people are breaking the law. Or if a gathering becomes violent we are breaking the law. We can assemble peacefully, it is our right as Americans.
6. Congress shall make no law that would prohibit people from petitioning the government for grievances.
—— What this means is that if something unjust has occurred, or you feel something is wrong you have ever right to bring those grievances to the government and fully expect to be listened to. Government can not ignore you by law. Our government by design is intended to have interaction and accessibility with and to the American people. This portion of the Amendment ensures every Americans right to have access to be heard.
It is amazing that in one sentence the Founding Fathers were able to make six distinct things very clear. And for the most part our society really likes the First Amendment, as long as we exclude point number two in regards to Christianity. I believe Government has moved into the realm of actually creating laws to prohibit the free exercise of religion and speech by preventing prayer in school and other government buildings on the premise of ‘Separation of Church and State’. My individual freedoms to believe in one religion and talk about that is a right I have through the First Amendment. There is no clause forbidding me from that practice in any building or location. The only thing that the U.S Government is unable to do is institute a religion, they should not be in the business of deciding when or where I can pray or talk about faith.
Those were my thoughts this morning. Have a great day!