In honor of National Religious Freedom Day, a great read from MRFF Board Member John Compere: “The History and Significance of American Religious Freedom”

Published On: January 16, 2022|Categories: News, Top News|0 Comments|
Headshot of John Compere on American Flag background

“Religious Freedom Day” is our national observance on January 16th celebrating America’s historic religious freedom (i.e. freedom of belief). It commemorates the day in 1786 when the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom authored by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison (Virginians, Founders and Presidents) was enacted. 

Virginia’s landmark law mandated no person “…shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place or ministry whatsoever” and separated religion from government in Virginia. It provided the genesis for US Constitution (Article VI [3] and 1st Amendment) separation of religion and government (aka: church and state separation)) established by the Founders and overwhelmingly supported by Americans today (Pew Research). Even Jesus reportedly separated government and religion (Matthew 22:21; Mark 12:17).

Freedom of belief (religious or non-religious) is an original American liberty. It was a basis for Article 18 of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaiming “…everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion…” .
 
Beliefs are predominately determined by the family, geography and culture in which one happens to be born and raised. American children believe in Santa Claus, flying reindeer, elves, Easter bunnies, Halloween witches, tooth fairies, ghosts, angels, devils, gods, et al although they are not evidence based. They want, need and enjoy these beliefs which are by-products of childhood obedience, imitation and gullibility.

American adults cease believing in most childhood myths but many continue to believe in gods, devils and angels because they want to believe and some need to believe. Comfort in belief is often preferred to accuracy. Religion prospers and profits by perpetuating these propensities. Other adults evolve to evidence based beliefs in humanity, nature, science, morality, etc. 
       
World history confirms early civilizations created their own gods which continued as cultural creeds. Naturalist religions deified humans, animals and elements. Egalitarian religions deified children, women and men. Matriarchal religions deified women and motherhood. Patriarchal religions deified only males.
 
Humans created most gods in their own image. Biblical scripture affirms“…each national group made its own gods…” (2 Kings 17:29). Renaissance Philosopher Michel de Montaigne advised “Man is certainly stark mad. He cannot make a worm, yet he will make gods by the dozens”. 

The religious beliefs of America’s original discoverers and inhabitants, our indigenous people or Native Americans, consisted of animistic nature worship with animals, elements and geographic features revered as spiritual essences. The next discoverers and inhabitants, Vikings/ Norsemen, practiced polytheistic paganism with various deities.

The religion of later Western European immigrants to America included varieties of Christianity imported from the ancient Middle East by way of Rome. The majority of American colonists fled Europe to escape religious oppression by the Church of England and Roman Catholic Church. When independence was declared in 1776 less than 20% of colonists belonged to religion establishments. Less than 50% of Americans are members of churches, synagogues or mosques today (Gallup).

Most of America’s principal founders were not orthodox Christians. Many were Deists (e.g. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine, Ethan Allen and Joel Barlow). Some were Unitarians (e.g. John Adams and John Quincy Adams). Only a few were orthodox Christians (e.g. Samuel Adams and Patrick Henry).

The religious freedom provided by our Constitution includes the military. Department of Defense directives and Armed Forces regulations protect freedom of belief. There are 221 different faith or belief groups for the military recognized by the Department of Defense and 79 different faith or belief emblems for military graves authorized by the Department of Veteran Affairs. Also, military chapels are available for religious worship and military chaplains are available for religious instruction.

Religious belief uniformity is non-existent. Diversity prevails worldwide. World Christian Encyclopedia records 10,000 distinct world religions with over 2,000 different Christianities in America alone. “Religion” is derived from the Latin “religare” meaning “to bind”. Most religions claim exclusive truth rejecting others. Few respect diversity. Murderous rejection is even mandated in Deuteronomy 13:6-10. American Philosopher Mark Twain observed “Man is the Religious Animal. He is the only Religious Animal. He is the only animal that has the True Religion – several of them.”

American religious freedom is a secular shield of protection providing every American the inalienable right guaranteed by the Constitution to determine, enjoy and practice her or his own religious or non-religious beliefs free from government favor or disfavor. It is never a sectarian sword of privilege to harm, discriminate against or impose religion on fellow Americans.
 
America is one of the most belief diverse (religious and non-religious) nations in the world. It is our proud American heritage of individual belief freedom and the cornerstone of American liberties.

“Being no bigot myself to any mode of worship…the Government of the United States, which gives bigotry no sanction…” – 1st President George WASHINGTON

“We should begin by setting conscience free. When all men of all religions…shall enjoy equal liberty…we may expect that improvements will be made in the human character and the state of society.” – 2nd President John ADAMS

“It behooves every man who values liberty of conscience for himself, to resist invasions of it in the case of others…we are bound…to maintain the common right of freedom of conscience.” – 3rd President Thomas JEFFERSON

“…religion & Govt. will exist in greater purity, the less they are mixed together…a corrupting coalition or alliance between them, will be best guarded against by an entire abstinence of the Government…” – 4th President James MADISON

“We establish no religion in this country, church and state are, and must remain, separate.” – 40th President Ronald REAGAN (Republican)

“I support the separation of church and state.” – 41st President George H.W. BUSH (Republican)
“I fully understand it’s important to maintain the separation of church and state…it’s very important for people who are serving (in office)to make sure there’s a separation of church and state.” – 43rd President George W. BUSH (Republican)

“This is a nation founded on the idea of the separation of church and state. After 200 years, why the hell would you want to go messing with that?” – 46th President Joseph BIDEN (Democrat)

Brigadier General John Compere, Judge Advocate General’s Corps, US Army (Retired)
Former Chief Judge, US Army Court of Military Review & US Army Legal Services Agency
Disabled American Veteran (Vietnam Era)
Board Member, Military Religious Freedom Foundation
Texas rancher

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