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True Faith: Freedom from religion?

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By David Binkley, Sr.

"The nobles of the nations assemble as the people of the God of Abraham, for the kings of the earth belong to God; he is greatly exalted." (Psalm 47:9 NIV)

While many shop owners wring their hands and ruffle their brows as they struggle to be politically correct and not offend anyone, clerks nowadays greet customers with a safe "Happy holidays" as you enter or leave a place of business or office. So, what are the holidays they are referring to with this hollow sounding greeting? Perhaps it is the widely celebrated legal American holiday of Christmas, or the traditional American holiday of Chanukah, or Kwanzaa, or New Years Day. The next thing you know, our government may have to organize a new bureaucracy to monitor the thought behind all this apparent fervor at this time of year.

Just this morning, I was checking a few of my reliable sources for the latest news from Russian and other republics of the old SU. One article described apparent government persecution of a small group of Baptists in Belarus, a former republic of the old Soviet Union. One official of the Ministry of Religious Affairs explained why authorities had brought the pastor and other members to court. "To pray to God they must have a registered place of worship." (http://www.forum18.org) Let us pray our own nation is not headed in that direction.

How would you feel if a school teacher asked you to stand out in the hall as punishment for standing up for your religious convictions? This has certainly happened all over our country in the past, and it is possible today, even with our much more tolerant attitudes. I was ten years old, in the fifth grade at Brentwood Grammar School. In North Carolina at that time, it was the custom to begin each day with the Pledge of Allegiance, and then our teacher chose a student to lead us in the Lord's Prayer. On this particular day, I had raised enough courage to refuse the teacher when she invited me to the front and lead the class in this prayer which our Lord taught the disciples. It was my belief that the Kingdom had already come with the advent of the church, and it was not proper to ask for "Thy Kingdom come" if it had already come. The teacher made me stand out in the hall as some kind of rebel. Miss Chatfield, our very strict and proper Principal, came by and inquired why I was standing in the hall. She knew I was never in any trouble, (that came later) and made perfect grades. She took me to the office for further inquisition, and just couldn't believe a little kid could be so mixed up with his religion. Thanks to her wisdom, we both made a compromise. My parents didn't know until a few years later. That was then.

We should all thank God that the founders of our country did not establish a national religion. What a tragedy for human rights if the "founding fathers" had required US citizens to be either Congregationalists, Anglicans, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Dutch Reformed, Quakers, Baptists, Roman Catholics, Methodists, or Jews. Which one would they choose as the best for America from these denominations of the colonial era? Maybe you have your personal preference, but you are most likely happy with me that we are free to choose religion or not to choose religion.

In those colonial years in our country, some of the colonies were populated with people who were mostly Congregationalists. We remember from our studies of our history that the pilgrims came to America seeking a place where they would have "freedom to worship God." Our early history reveals the exact opposite of freedom of worship in Massachusetts, as the overpowering and intolerant clergy exercised as much power as the mayor or governor. These men demanded that citizens conform to their ideas about doctrine and worship. Thomas Hooker, a religious leader of the time had sharp disagreements with the leadership, and led a group away to form the colony of Connecticut. These religious leaders became just as powerful and intolerant with their citizens as the people of Massachusetts. This was the case in most of the colonies where the clergy had power.

Thomas Jefferson was keenly aware of this colonial history, and believed that a "state church," acting with the blessings of the government, could in fact become an enemy of freedom of conscience, and intellectual liberty. He was pleased to be the author of Virginia's "Statute for Religious Freedom." This document ordered that in the Commonwealth of Virginia there would be no established church. James Madison, a disciple of Jefferson, drafted the First Amendment of the US Constitution which guarantees freedom of religion and separation of church and state.

Now we look to the precedents of the federal courts in interpreting the Bill of Rights in cases involving the free exercise of religion. In the 1947 landmark Everson v. Board of Education case, taxpayers were protesting that the use of public funds in transporting children to parochial schools violated the First and Fourteenth amendments. A Justice wrote this opinion for the court: "The 'establishment of religion' clause - means at least this: Neither a state nor the Federal government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another. Neither can force nor influence a person to go to or remain away from church against his will or force him to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion... The First Amendment erected a wall between church and state. That wall must be kept high and impregnable." The court ruled that the use of public funds in transporting children to parochial schools did not violate this separation since it was a grant of help to the school children.

Churches have the legal right to enjoy certain tax relief offered by individual states and the federal governments. This is allowable as long as it is offered without discrimination toward any particular group. This does not constitute the "establishment" of a religion by the government. All must be treated equally. We all have the right under our constitution to worship according our beliefs and to argue and attempt to persuade others to believe as we do. God Bless America!

Have you accepted the amazing salvation that is offered to you by the gift of God's love? Why not make that choice today. Receive Jesus Christ as your Savior by confessing your faith, repenting of your sins, and being baptized into Christ. You are invited to attend the services of the Church of Christ at the corner of 3rd and E Streets. Please write to me with any questions or comments at P.O. Box 186, Cedar Key, FL 32625 or dgbinkley@aol.com. Or you may also request to receive the daily WORD OF THE DAY by e-mail. Check out our web site at www.cedarkeychurchofchrist.com.