This photo made available by the U.S. National Archives shows a portion of the United States Constitution with Articles V-VII. For the past two centuries, constitutional amendments have originated in Congress, where they need the support of two-thirds of both houses, and then the approval of at least three-quarters of the states. But under a never-used second prong of Article V, amendments can originate in the states. (National Archives via AP)
As Easter Sunday comes to a close, churches all over the nation held services this weekend celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ with many thousands being held online, including through Facebook and YouTube. In several places though, pushbacks against First Amendment rights came from political officials who attempted to regulate the freedom of religion out of existence, if only temporarily. Governor Andy Beshear of Kentucky stated that local officials would “record license plate numbers of participants” so they could be passed to health departments who would then enforce two-week quarantines on the offenders. In Greenville, MS, churchgoers from Temple Baptist Church were ticketed for $500 during a “drive in” service where people stayed in there cars with the windows rolled up while listening to their pastor preach on the radio. As a historian and researcher, I am not opposed to social distancing efforts with the goal to stop the spread of a virus. I am, however, vehemently opposed to restrictions on our First Amendment freedoms.
The freedom of religion is literally the first freedom listed in the Bill of Rights followed by the freedoms of speech, the press, peaceable assembly, and to petition. The founders specifically placed the Second Amendment right to bear arms right after the First Amendment in order to protect it. An overreaching government or tyrannical ruler cannot take away the first set of rights if the people are armed and ready to defend them. Additionally, the first freedom (of religion) protected in first part of the First Amendment is a built-in protection for the rest of the freedoms. The founders knew that if the government established a religion, that they could very well lose their freedom of speech, the freedom of the press, the right to assemble, and the right to petition the government. Many of them had come from a nation where the monarch ruled because he claimed God had put him in charge. If God put him in charge he could not be argued with, therefore they could not speak against him or they could be punished. AND the news of the day could not slander him, lest they slander God, for which they could be punished. AND the people could not assemble to discuss how they disagreed with said monarch or what to do about gaining more rights, because if they disagreed with him and since he was equal to God, they could be punished, even if they didn’t believe in his God. This further meant that they couldn’t petition him to address grievances, because the monarch could simply claim his rules and regulations came from God and therefore could not be questioned. AND if they persisted, they could be punished.
Let’s turn that on its head a moment and look at it from the other side. When the government allows no religion (China, anyone? North Korea, anyone? Former USSR, anyone?) then those freedoms are still lost. You cannot exercise free speech if you disagree with the government that there is a God, because when you say there is then you can be punished. You cannot exercise freedom of the press if you report the human rights violations of your government against those who disagree with it over whether or not there is a God, because then you can be punished. You cannot peaceably assemble if you are going to discuss how you all disagree with your government about there being no God, because then you can be punished. And you certainly cannot petition that same government about how you want to practice freedom of religion, because they have determined that there is no God. AND if you persist then you can be punished.
I cringe when I read of people who want to discriminate against, restrict, and sometimes outright destroy worshippers of God or Christ followers simply because they themselves don’t believe in any god or don’t have anything to do with any type of religion. They do not understand that my freedom of religion protects their freedom of speech (even when their speech is vile and hateful,) the freedom of their press (even when their press act like bumbling, double standard bearing idiots,) their right to peaceably assemble (even when they don’t do it peaceably,) and their right to petition the government over grievances (even when these petitions at times attempt to trample my First and Second Amendment rights.) Everyone should vehemently support freedom of religion, for historically, it is the basis of all First Amendment rights. Additionally, if you don’t think believers are around the world are being persecuted for their faith, check out Voice of the Martyrs website at https://www.persecution.com/about/. More on this subject can be found through the following links. While I do not agree with everything in every one of them, the information they provide can be useful for further research.