Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Freedom Of Religion

Here's a quote that I think is foolish:

"The First Amendment was written by the Founders to protect the free exercise of Christianity. They were making no effort to give special protections to Islam. Quite the contrary," Fischer wrote on his Renew America blog. Islam has no fundamental First Amendment claims, for the simple reason that it was not written to protect the religion of Islam. Islam is entitled only to the religious liberty we extend to it out of courtesy." - Bryan Fischer, American Family Association.

I'm afraid that Mr. Fischer is expressing a mistaken impression of early American Christianity here.

One of the things that I explain to my students is that local control was so important to the new American states partly because the Christians in one state didn't really trust, or even particularly like, the Christians in certain other states. My students, like Mr. Fischer, tend to think that "Christians" are "Christians," but I put a list on the board to clear up that over-simplification. Of course, most of the early Americans were Christians, but there were Catholics, Anglicans, Episcopalians, Methodists, Presbyterians, Reformed, Baptists, Puritans and even, God forbid! Quakers among them.

Remember antidisestablishmentarianism? (My spell check, unfortunately, does not.) The tension between the establishment Christianities and the outsider Christianities was a big political issue at the time in both England and the colonies.

The First Amendment was intended to prevent "the establishment of Religion," which was a real problem in the colonies. In some states, a Catholic could not hold public office; in Maryland, only a Catholic could do so. Catholics were discriminated against in many colonies, and the very foundation of Maryland as a Catholic colony was intended as a refuge for Catholics. Let's face it, no one liked the Quakers very much. They were usually forced to live outside the mainstream somewhere, on their own. The "Flushing Remonstrance" was an early effort to remedy that situation. Rhode Island was founded by people who wanted to get away from the Puritans in Massachusetts, people who preferred more singing and dancing than went on in Massachusetts (more piracy too, but that's another story).

I'm pretty sure that the First Amendment was always intended to protect the Jews too, although in New York, long the only colony that would accept them, they already enjoyed considerable freedom. No "strict constructionist" I, so I'll also mention that the Supreme Court over the years has interpreted the First Amendment as protecting the free expression of any religion. That's their job, the "what do the words mean?" thing. I get a big kick out of people who think that they are qualified to tell us what the so-called founders were really, really thinking. And who cares anyway? Haven't we learned something over the course of the last two-hundred plus years? Don't we know better now? Certain things, anyway.

Who knows if there were more than two or three Muslims in the colonies before the revolution, but that only puts them on a long list of people whose religion only later came to our shores. They're all here now, that's for sure, every single religion of them. Religious freedom, and equal protection, are their constitutional rights, whether Mr. Fischer thinks so or not.

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