The prior post discussed the obligation of a leader to start with why to engage and motivate his team. I used an example from my own life about explaining an important concept. Now I will expand on the history behind my “why” that I was trying to make clear to my family.
Moving to a discussion of what exactly are the “unalienable rights”, we can see the Founding Fathers were prescriptive. Their list of grievances against the King of England were well articulated in the Declaration of Independence. In the constitution they would address government and its structure in the first 7 articles and enumerate powers specific to the “central” government in Article 1 section 8. They would go on to define the unalienable rights in the Bill of Rights, or the first 10 amendments.
It is interesting to note that George Mason is called the father of the Bill of Rights. He did not feel the first 7 articles went far enough to define and constrain the federal or central government, and therefore refused to sign the original. He wanted to assure the rights of the states, and of the people, were protected. To place an exclamation point on that fact, the Founding Fathers inserted the 10th amendment in the Bill of Rights where it is clear that if any power is not expressly conveyed to the federal government in Article 1 section 8, then those powers are retained by the state.
The 1st amendment has 5 unalienable rights that we all should hold dear. These rights further form the reason why I cannot and will not separate the constitution from the Bible. If our Founding Fathers saw no separation, then I cannot find a reason to create the schism. These five rights are the freedom of worship without governmental interference, freedom of speech, press, peaceable assembly, and to petition the government for redress of a grievance. For today’s post we will address the freedom of religion since there is frequent discussion and misinterpretation….and it is a BIG “why” for me.
The freedom of religion is an unalienable right granted to us by God, not the government. Our first amendment makes it clear that the government can “make no law respecting the establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Unfortunately, this has been recently misinterpreted as freedom from religion rather than freedom to exercise religion as originally intended. The framers of our constitution did not drive for a separation of church and state. Those words are nowhere in the constitution or were ever uttered by a framer of the constitution. We will get to that origin shortly.
The freedom of religion is based on the unwillingness of the founders to establish a state church like the Church of England that created strife in England and the colonies. The United States of America were founded on freedoms as evidenced starting with the Mayflower Compact and continuing through each state’s constitution. The free exercise of religion, whether Catholic in Georgia, Congregationalist is Massachusetts or Quaker in Pennsylvania, cannot and will not be impeded by the government. During the recent covid-crazy we saw states stepping in to stomp on religious freedom that the Supreme Court recognized as outside their authority and unconstitutional.
Some of the framers were very articulate on this matter. George Washington stated, “We should be very cautious of violating the rights of conscience in others, ever considering that God alone is the judge of the hearts of men and to Him only they are answerable.” President Washington was very clear in defining that government holds no right over a citizen’s exercise of religion. Other constitutional signers such as John Jay and William Livingston concurred with the President.
John Adams approached this subject from another perspective. He discussed with his fellow founders how the government of the United States would only be successful if it feared God and repented of its sins. He was not anticipating that the government would be without religious influence, but that it would be led by God and a moral and faithful people. The idea of a government “separated” from religion was not thought possible.
The natural question is, where then did the concept of “separation of church and state” come from? For that we are required to look to a letter written by then president, Thomas Jefferson, to the Danbury Baptist Association in 1802. The association was concerned that government would step in and begin dictating what could be said from the pulpit and would regulate the unalienable right of free expression of religion. President Jefferson sought to assure that the constitution would never allow such a travesty.
To understand the intent, we must go back to the journals of the congress and the original writings of the founders. And remember, Jefferson was not at the constitutional convention. He wrote the Declaration of Independence but was not a writer or framer of the constitution as he was on assignment in Europe and did not see either the constitution or the Bill of Rights until they were already ratified. However, he, too, indicated that,
“On every question of construction, carry ourselves back to the time when the Constitution was adopted, recollect the spirit manifested in the debates, and instead of trying what meaning may be squeezed out of the text, or invented against it, conform to the probable one in which it was passed.”
Fisher Ames was the framer who provided the wording for the 1st amendment. He said, “Not only should the Bible be in our schools, it should be the primary textbook of our schools.” That is definitely not a discussion of separation of church and state. Sadly, it was Justice Hugo Black in 1947, a KKK member, who framed that verbiage currently inappropriately used.
Therefore, the original intent of the first amendment’s freedom of religion is a big “why” we cannot separate the Bible from the constitution. As a leader, I must dig to original intent, explain the purposes, and maintain my focus while helping others understand the why. This is a great lesson for any leader to seek to understand before being understood. In my case, I finally understood the confusion and now I can articulate the why. As leaders we need to become excellent at articulating the why.