Friday, March 9, 2012

The First Amendment and Faith

I often blog about censorship and freedom of speech. It's an issue that I feel has great relevance to our day and has the potential to make a stronger, more peaceful society. So when my friend posted about an event for the Religious Education Freedom Project at the Newseum, I was intrigued. (And when I found out it would get me out of doing laundry Thursday night, I got on the attendance list right away.) That is why I went to hear John M. Barry talk about Roger Williams, the man who first introduced the concept of the separation of church and state to the English-speaking world.

(Library of Congress Digital Archives)
"Man hath not power to make laws to bind conscience, he overthrows such his tenent and practice as restrain men from their worship, according to their conscience and belief, and constrain them to such worships (though it be out of a pretense that they are convinced) which their own souls tell them they have no satisfaction nor faith in."
—Roger Williams
theologian and author of A Plea for Religious Liberty

A lot of my political views on religion stem from Williams' theories. He was a man of great faith who believed that religious freedom comes only when all religions (not just Christian sects but "the most paganish, Jewish, Turkish, or antichristian consciences and worships") are allowed to flourish. And this freedom can only come through a complete separation of church and state.

"When you mix religion and politics, you get politics... Nowhere in the Constitution does it mention God. It's a completely secular document."

I was most intrigued by Barry's concept that religious tolerance is not enough as it is merely a "watered-down" version of freedom. Tolerance can be removed and rejected at any time, yet freedom is a God-given right to all men.

I consider myself a faithful Christian. I attend church, was baptized and take the sacrament (or communion). I believe that it is through Christ that I can be forgiven of my sins, and his teachings and example show me how to be a better person. But I also believe that God allows us choice, and it is not for lawmakers to impose Christian beliefs and practices through the governance of America. I loved spending the evening thinking about how my faith in God gives me a better understanding of the First Amendment.
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
Thank you Mormon Insider for telling me about this wonderful event. I hope I will be able to attend more in the future.

The Religious Freedom Education Project is presented by the Wesley Theological Seminar, hosted by the Newseum's First Amendment Center and sponsored by the J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott Foundation. I wanted to provided links to each of these organizations as they work hard to increase religious and cultural understanding by utilizing the principles established in the First Amendment.

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