Religious Freedom: The Founder's Take
We've seen a huge reaction this week to Indiana's new Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). The left - and many on the right - have called it homophobic, unnecessary, and bigoted. Because, clearly, religious freedom is all those things! Arkansas' legislature passed a similar measure this week, and religious freedom haters have moved south with their bitter diatribes.
Interestingly, while serving in the Illinois Senate, President Obama voted in favor of a similar law. President Clinton signed the National Religious Freedom and Restoration Act in 1993. “The free exercise of religion has been called the first freedom – that which originally sparked the full range of the Bill of Rights,” he noted.
Religious freedom is an American tradition. It's what we were founded upon. It's what the Pilgrims came here for. It's what William Penn built Pennsylvania upon. And yes, it's what our founders fought and died for. Here are just a few examples of what they had to say about it:
"No people can be truly happy, though under the greatest enjoyments of civil liberties, if abridged of the Freedom of their Conscience as to their Religious Profession and Worship." - William Penn, Pennsylvania Charter of Liberties, 1701
"Driven from every other corner of the earth, freedom of thought and the right of private judgment in matters of conscience direct their course to this happy country as their last asylum." - Samuel Adams, 1776 speech in Philadelphia
“Every man, conducting himself as a good citizen, and being accountable to God alone for his religious opinions, ought to be protected in worshiping the Deity according to the dictates of his own conscience.” - George Washington, Letter, United Baptist Chamber of Virginia May 1789
"It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religions, but on the gospel of Jesus Christ. For this very reason peoples of other faiths have been afforded asylum, prosperity, and freedom of worship here." - Patrick Henry
“I consider the government of the United States as interdicted by the Constitution from intermeddling with religious institutions, their doctrines, disciplines or exercises.” - Thomas Jefferson’s Letter to Rev. Mr. Millar, Jan. 23, 1808 (Words of Thomas Jefferson, Vol 5, pg 236.)
"Nothing is more dreaded than the national government meddling with religion." - John Adams, 1812 Letter to Benjamin Rush
“There is not a shadow of right on the general goverment to intermeddle with religion. Its least interference with it would be a most flagrant usurpation. I can appeal to my uniform conduct on this subject that I have warmly supported religious freedom.” - James Madison, father of the Constitution