Religious freedom is often called
the "first freedom" in the U.S.
The Council for America's First
Freedom states that the passage of "An act for establishing religious freedom"
in Virginia during 1786"...was the first
time in the history of western civilization that a law was enacted that
protected religious freedom" for everyone. The Council was
founded in 1984 on the occasion of the 200th anniversary of the writing of the
statute. They encourage celebration of
Religious Freedom Day in mid-January annually. 1
Religious freedom is theoretically guaranteed by
the first sentence in the Bill of Rights -- the First
Amendment to the U.S. Constitution:
"Congress shall make no law respecting an
establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."
However, like all rights, they have to be
rigorously enforced. In this case, they must be defended against two main
Those who wish
to convert the U.S. and Canada into theocracies in which only one religion is
supreme, and most activities become either compulsory or illegal. These
groups attempt to restrict or eliminate all religious expression and action
other than their own. To see what this is like in the real world, consider
the lack of freedom in Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Those who wish to eliminate the right of
individuals to express any religious belief in public.
The first phrase of the First Amendment is referred to as the establishment
clause. It has been interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court as erecting a wall of
separation between church and state -- a phrase lifted from a letter by Thomas
Jefferson to a Baptist group. Jefferson was a firm believer in "the wall." He
regularly refused to authorize presidential proclamations of prayer,
thanksgiving and related religious matters. He felt that such proclamations were
the responsibility of religious institutions, not of the government.
are found in many countries of the world. Many commentators
believe that North America has avoided such horrors because of the principle of
separation of church and state. This relative freedom from religious bigotry has
been achieved in spite of North America being the most religiously diverse
region of the world.
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