Commentary Open Forum: A First Amendment excercise

John r. Austin

“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, to petition the Government for redress of grievances.”

There is no I, no we, and no us referred to in those 43 words. There are no exceptions for Chinese, Spanish, blacks, or whites, or any other race. Because it is a doctrine for life here in America, for the protection of all people.

It is so well-written that it defies confusion in the face of ambiguity. It reigns supreme over judicial opinion and the briefs of every naysayer. It is also a “code of conduct” for the federal government to follow.

No matter what your perspective, you should realize the phrase “shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion” is under fire today in America. Make no mistake, We the People have allowed this to happen.

Still, in recent years, Congress has made two attempts to bolster the First Amendment’s religious clause. In 1993 Congress passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. In its Declaration of Purpose, the wording is “the framers of the Constitution, recognizing free exercise of religion as an unalienable (can’t be taken away) right, secured its protection in the First Amendment of the Constitution.”

Then in 2000 Congress passed the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. That law prohibits the imposition of burdens on the ability of prisoners to worship as they please and gives churches and other religious institutions a way to avoid burdensome zoning law restrictions on the use of their properties.

Clearly again, the government was unburdening those who wish to practice religion to be able to do so without government intervention.

The most misunderstood clause of the 20th century in America may well be “separation of church and state.” The First Amendment is very clear in admonishing the government not to intervene in the citizen’s right to practice religion, yet there is a polarization of that process through court action after court action telling people where not to pray, where not to worship, not allowing the Pledge of Allegiance, and stripping God’s name from our edifices.

Why do we find ourselves in such a state of flux over our rights to practice our religion(s) as we see fit? I think it is because freedom is not free and too many people are not willing to pay the cost and or, likewise, the conviction to protect their unalienable rights.

We must be willing to press our case for religious freedom as well as all other unalienable rights annotated in our founding documents. Too many died to get us here. This is no time for capitulation.

History is meant to educate, not denigrate.

John R. Austin is a resident of Cross Junction.


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