Most people have heard of the First Amendment without understanding it or its history. At this point in time the First Amendment is under assault. Some of these assaults have become vitriolic and devolved into personal attacks. A little history is needed to show how and why we have the First Amendment.
Many of the first settlers to this part of the New World that we now know as the USA came from Great Britain where the King was both head of state and head of the Church of England. At that time adherents to other dominations were ostracized and persecuted which motivated them to flee to seek freedom to worship God according to their denominational doctrine. Some came to this part of the New World directly, some came by way Holland or other countries seeking the freedom to worship God without interference from the government.
When this country decided the Articles of Confederation were not sufficient, they had a choice to amend that or draft a new document, to do that they called a Constitutional Convention. They decided on a new document.
Several delegates to the Constitutional Convention refused to sign the newly drafted constitution because it did not include a bill of rights. Bills of rights were typically parts of the constitutions of the several states of the day (and today), placed there to ensure that certain rights were recognized by the government. Most of the delegates did not feel such a bill was necessary, and other may have been on the fence but were weary from the months of negotiations.
The lack of a bill of rights was one of the main arguments that the Anti-Federalists used to try to convince the public to reject the Constitution. But the need for change was all too evident, and it was not rejected. However, some of the states sent suggestions for amendments to the Constitution to add an enumeration of certain rights. The ratification messages of the states included many varying suggestions, which the very first Congress took under consideration in its very first session. (Note it was not sent to a study committee for some future Congress to settle.)
What makes the first Amendment so important?
The Constitution granted by the people created the government, by contract. In this Contract the federal government is given enough power to protect people’s unalienable rights from being damaged by foreign aggressors and other individuals.
Unalienable Rights can never be taken away by anyone, including the government, because they come from God. Inalienable Rights are granted by the government and subject to cancellation by the government or the people.
Our Founding Fathers gave us a Republic which guarantees each of us our Unalienable Rights. In a Democracy a vote by 51% could cancel the Rights of the other 49%.
The Contract also limits the federal government to ensure that the government itself never became the oppressor and destroyer of those rights.
Once you fully understand those two statements, the reason the First Amendment may be clear.
Our rights come from a power higher than the government, God. If the government could mandate a state religion, there would be no power higher than the official government endorsed religion. Thus our rights would in essence come from our government, and thusly could be taken away by the government.
The Freedoms of Speech, Assembly, and of the Press are there to make sure we had a way to find out what was going on and could let other people know about it if the government ever got the idea not honor the Contract and give itself powers which we the people hadn’t consented to grant them.
If government controlled the message and religious beliefs it would dictate how the people thought and acted. In essence government would have final word on what constitutes open expression of religion and alienate people from their unalienable rights. When you have the power to rule over God, you become God, which is exactly what the First Amendment was created to prevent.
Federal laws are passed by Congress and enacted when signed by the president, or by a veto override. There are some who believe the words “separation of church and state” prevent Prayer or other “religious” activities in public. When Courts determine what the authors of a law meant by a certain word or phrase they review the Congressional Record in order to make a ruling. The phrase “separation of church and state” was written in a private letter by Thomas Jefferson.
The Congressional Records from June 7 to September 25, 1789, record the months of discussions and debates of the ninety Founding Fathers who framed the First Amendment. Significantly, not only was Thomas Jefferson not one of those ninety who framed the First Amendment, but also, during those debates not one of those ninety Framers ever mentioned the phrase “separation of church and state.” It seems logical that if this had been the intent for the First Amendment – as is so frequently asserted-then at least one of those ninety who framed the Amendment would have mentioned that phrase; none did.
If Jefferson’s letter is to be used today, let its context be clearly given – as in previous years. Furthermore, earlier Courts had always viewed Jefferson’s Danbury letter for just what it was: a personal, private letter to a specific group. There is probably no other instance in America’s history where words spoken by a single individual in a private letter – words clearly divorced from their context – have become the sole authorization for a national policy. Jefferson’s Danbury letter should never be invoked as a stand-alone document. A proper analysis of Jefferson’s views must include his numerous other statements on the First Amendment.
The assault on the First Amendment is an assault on God.
There are those who can not win an argument on the merits so they resort to the bully pulpit to abuse, demean and intimidate those with opposing views. The people who resort to such bulling tactics are generally insecure, anxious people who have many fears. Their thinking is that if they bellow enough others will give in, leave, or suggest the one being violated be removed from the situation. Either way the bully gets the sand box to himself. When the abuser/bully is stood up to he looses his power over the one violated. The abuser/bully can create mental health issues for the ones he violates, leaving more carnage.
Reverend Paul N. Papas II is a Pastoral Counselor with Narrow Path Ministries (MA and AZ) and Founder of the Family Renewal Center (AZ). http://www.narrowpathministries.org and http://www.familyrenewalcenteraz.org