[Mikey Weinstein]: This guest Op-Ed of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation’s Religious Freedom Day Statement is from my dear friend and distinguished MRFF Advisory Board Member John Compere - U.S. Army Brigadier General (Ret.), Disabled American Veteran (Vietnam), U.S. Judge (Ret.), Texas Lawyer (Ret.), and Callahan County Rancher.
American Religious Freedom Day is the annual national observance on January 16th celebrating our historic religious liberties. It commemorates the day in 1786 when the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom authored by Thomas Jefferson and advocated by James Madison (Virginians, Founders and Presidents) was passed by the Virginia Assembly. The legislation disestablished the Church of England as Virginia's state church and separated government from religion in Virginia.
Virginia's historic religious freedom law was the genesis for our American Constitution's separation of church and state, primarily authored by Madison and advocated by Jefferson, Washington, Adams, Franklin, Hamilton, Paine and many other Founders.
World history records the civil conflict and human harm caused for centuries throughout Europe when governments and religion were combined and co-dependent. Separation of church and state is a fundamental liberty of free people keeping public government out of private religion and private religion out of public government. It was clearly our Founders' intent as provided by the Constitution, indisputably documented by historic records, publicly acknowledged by every President except the current contrarian, confirmed by the Judiciary, and embedded in the law of our land.
The Declaration of Independence contains universal terms not exclusive to any religion (“Laws of Nature”, “Nature's God”, “Creator”, “Divine Providence” ). Moreover, it expressly declares “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the Consent of the Governed” - not from a religion.
The Preamble provides six secular reasons our nation was established for “We The People” with no reference to a deity or religion. Our secular Constitution mentions no deity and mandates “no religious test ” shall ever be required as a qualification to any public office or public trust. American history confirms no public prayers were provided during 116 days of the secular Constitutional Convention. James Madison reminded delegates of the Constitution's secular purpose - “This is derived from the superior power of the people” - not from a deity or religion.
The first 3 clauses in the 1st Amendment of the Constitution Bill of Rights provide, respectively, our historic trinity of religious liberties - (1) freedom from public religion, (2) freedom of private religion, and (3) freedom of speech about religion. The operative verbs for the three individual religious freedoms cannot be denied (commonsense clue - first read them and then read their definitions in an American dictionary). Government is lawfully prohibited from favoring or promoting a religion. Citizens have the right to privately practice their religious or non-religious beliefs, but not publicly on others. Our Texas Constitution provides this same trio of religious liberties.
It is historically significant to note the original religion of the Americas was Native American Animism. The second religion was Viking Old Norse Polytheism. The Christian religion was a later foreign import from the ancient Middle East by way of Rome. Neither Middle Easterners nor Romans discovered America or founded the United States. World history confirms the great majority of early colonists fled Europe for America to escape oppressive Christian control, corruption and conflict of the Church of England and Roman Catholic Church.
We became the first nation in history with a governing Constitution protecting independent freedom of belief. The Founders, by their actions, knew individual liberty of conscience could not exist without separation of government and religion. Individual freedom to believe or not believe is the very essence of our American religious liberty. Consequently, religious freedoms flourish in America.
We are lawfully one nation under our secular Constitution and geographically one nation under our neighbor Canada, but we are not theologically one nation under a deity. Every elected representative, beginning with the nation's president, raises her or his right hand and takes a sworn public oath to uphold the American Constitution – not some foreign scripture. Our government publicly acknowledges the nation's diversity of beliefs in many ways. For example, the US Department of Defense official list of recognized religions for the military alone currently includes 221 different faith and belief groups.
These are factual, historical and lawful truths intentionally ignored and dishonestly disregarded by unqualified history deniers and religious revisionists with self-serving sectarian agendas. Beware of those who preach their private beliefs over our public liberty. They are entitled to their ill-conceived opinions, but never to their own facts, history, law or truth.
“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, you, I, and every one, to make common cause, even with error itself, 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 were founded as a nation of openness to people of all beliefs. And so we must remain. Our very unity has been strengthened by our pluralism. We establish no religion in this country, we command no worship, we mandate no belief, nor will we ever. Church and state are, and must remain separate. All are free to believe or not believe, all are free to practice a faith or not...” - 40th President RONALD REAGAN
“Freedom means religious freedom, whether you are Christian, Jew, Muslim or atheist. Gay or straight, the Bill of Rights protects the right of all of us to live according to our conscience.” - US Senator TED CRUZ (Republican, Texas)