Hostility to religious faith is growing. Americans need to be aware, and to know their rights. That includes the right to hold religious convictions without fear.
Unfortunately, modern activists aim to silence those of faith. Motivations range from jealousy and prejudice to fear, envy, hatred, power politics and basic disaffection. Whatever the cause, we are in a spike. America’s future depends on vigilance, understanding history, and the law – which does not permit this hostility.
America was founded on the view that faith mattered, individually and to the nation. Not only does democracy – and our Republic – require a moral society, but freedom to reach personal convictions was among the most important to our founding.
Periodically, we hear the Founders were faithless or did not care. In fact, they cared deeply. Sprinkled throughout their writings are references to Providence, The Almighty and afterlife.
On the Jefferson Memorial: “Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God? Indeed, I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that his justice cannot sleep forever.”
Another wall: “Almighty God hath created the mind free. All attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burthens…are a departure from the plan of the Holy Author of our religion…No man shall … suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but all men shall be free to profess and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion.”
John Adams in 1789: “We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion … Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people.”
Then Patrick Henry: “The great pillars of all government and of social life …virtue, morality, and religion … This is the armor, my friend, and this alone, that renders us invincible.” These are the great strengths of America.
Poignantly, John Quincy Adams wrote: “Is it not that the Declaration of Independence first organized the social compact on the foundation of the Redeemer’s mission upon earth – that it laid the cornerstone of human government upon the first precepts of Christianity?”
In sum, America was founded on reverence – for religious convictions. If we abandon these, or choose not to defend them, we lose that foundation. Recent scholarship, such as Mark Hall’s book “Did America Have a Christian Founding?” affirms the importance of religion in America.
All this is a backdrop. A November 2019 survey by the Pew Center reports more than half of us still believe “churches and religious organizations” are important, “strengthen morality in society” and “bring people together.” That fits with our Founders’ thinking.
Worrisome is the other 20 percent, who think churches “do more harm than good” and “pull people apart.” That answer seems utterly insensible, until one digs deeper.
Hostility to religion seems to rest on religion’s role in politics. Of course, religious convictions set the moral compass, which affects political choices – just as lack of compass, moral relativism, affects politics. That is why our Founders thought religion was important.
In the Pew survey, something else emerges. Some 54 percent of Americans view the Republican Party as “friendly” to religion – that is, preservation of religious freedom – while only 19 percent view the Democratic party as “friendly” to religion.
So, what used to be a consensus that religious freedom mattered to all Americans is fraying. Americans see Republicans as three times more “friendly” to “religion” than Democrats. While individual issues weigh heavily, the broader concern is that America’s commitment to religious freedom is under attack – that our Republic is sliding off the foundation our Founders thought vital for survival.
One recent event punctuates the threat to religious freedom. This month, the US military reversed a longstanding policy. The matter may seem trivial but is significant.
Military personnel have long been able to place a bible passage on “dog tags.” In World Wars II, tags bore religious affiliation. Since 9-11, soldiers have often put a verse on their tags. Public accounts indicate some four million service members have dog tags with verses engraved.
The most popular is Joshua 1:9:3. “I can do all things … Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Inspirational, indeed.
One need not have served in the military to understand the value. This act of faith amounts to free exercise of religion, comporting with both statute law and prevailing judicial opinions.
In a recent Supreme Court case, Justice Alito wrote: “A government that roams the land . . . scrubbing away any reference to the divine will strike many as aggressively hostile to religion.” That hostility is not permitted.
Nevertheless, a complaint by one atheist produced a letter to the party licensed to engrave dog tags, saying: “You are not authorized to put biblical verses on your Army products.”
Will this end up at the Supreme Court? Maybe. Will the policy be reversed? Will service members retain the right to wear a Bible verse in combat? One can only hope.
In the meantime, the danger is this: Religious freedom is under pressure. We are in a spike. As always, America’s future depends on the current generation’s vigilance – opposing hostility to religion and those of faith. The Founders defended religious liberty. We must also.