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The first freedom:

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 groups:

bulletThose 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.
bulletThose 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.

Religiously motivated:

bullet Hatred, animosity, intolerance,
bulletConflict, oppression, unjustified discrimination,
bullet mass murders, crimes against humanity and genocide

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.

Reference used:

The following information source was used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlink is not necessarily still active today.

  1. The Council for America's First Freedom has a web site at: http://www.firstfreedom.org/

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Copyright © 2006 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
First posted: 2006-OCT-19
Last updated: 2009-JAN-16
Author: B.A. Robinson

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