The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution contains several components: freedom of religion, freedom of assembly, freedom to complain about our government and freedom of the press.
Which freedom did the Founders list first? Religion. And over the years, the freedom of religion has taken its place as arguably the most important right we have as Americans. Why else would the Founders have listed it first among all the individual liberties?
That freedom will be examined Tuesday beginning at 7 p.m. on KACV-TV. “The First Freedom: The Fight for Religious Liberty” will look at the Founders’ struggle to raise that freedom to the level of a basic human right.
The freedom of religion, of course, has been the subject of intense and occasionally bitter political debate ever since the First Amendment was ratified — along with the rest of the Bill of Rights — in the 18th century. What the amendment says is that Congress shall make no law establishing a state religion, nor can Congress pass a law prohibiting “the free exercise thereof.” Why? The Founders were direct descendants of immigrants to waded ashore in the 17th century precisely to avoid religious persecution in Europe. They came here to escape the dictates of governments that told them they had to worship a certain way. Those early immigrants didn’t want government forcing them to worship any religion, let alone a state-mandated faith — such as the Church of England.
So they came here and over time crafted a government with some specific prohibitions. One of them would be that Congress couldn’t enact a law creating a state religion. Many have interpreted that as a “church-state separation,” even though the Constitution doesn’t include those words specifically.
But Article VI does say “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”
As we enter this holy season, it would be good to take time to learn what the Founders had in mind when they created this government framework called the U.S. Constitution. “The First Freedom” will offer us an important lesson.