by Dr. Jeffrey Lant
Author’s program note. Religious fervor, religious metaphors, religious language, religious dispute, religious assertiveness, religious iconography, religious music all pulsate through every aspect of the Great Republic, its life and affairs. And that is why the Founding Fathers as their first order of business and to establish the tone and substance for all that followed, wrote the First Amendment to the Constitution. In sparse, incisive, resolute, unequivocal language they rendered their bold and well considered opinion thus:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
These sentiments were the more necessary because of the very vibrancy of religion and all of its manifestations in the Great Republic… for every religion, (because of its adamant belief that its way to God is The way to God), is messianic, exclusive, intolerant, and so potentially divisive, disruptive, even dangerous.
And no one knew this better than the great and thoughtful Founding Fathers who had as their matter of high and abiding significance the preservation of the many great things rendered by religion… whilst avoiding the imperial tendencies of all religions, to uplift themselves, even unto the seizure of the Great Republic, whilst denigrating the rest.
The great problem set, these same Founding Fathers commenced their high business of solving it. For make no mistake about it, the objective of the Founding Fathers was not the crippling control and suppression of religion so much as it was creating an atmosphere and civic establishment in which religions — all religions — might flourish to the glory and benefit of the Great Republic they were crafting and meant to have.
Thus I give you the occasional music for this article, and a better tune one could hardly have for this subject: “Give Me That Old-Time Religion.” It’s a traditional Gospel song dating from 1873. Charles David Tillman took this song, which may have originated as a black folk song, and by his publishing and enthusiasm for its adamant, uplifting message turned it into a staple of white congregations and so it has abided, a joyful manifestation of the Good News.
To get it, go now to any search engine. You’ll find many fine renditions of this song; I prefer the get-up-and-praise Him version belted out by Mahalia Jackson, Hallelujah… for if it was good enough for my father… good enough for my mother… then it’s good enough for me!
The background to the First Amendment.
To a person, the men who constituted the Founding Fathers, were men knowledgeable about religion, its history, uses, practices, and tendencies. As a result, they were haunted, almost to a person, by the damages religion could deliver, as well as its comforts. And they knew, none better, that left to its own devices religion could chill individual inquiry rather than encourage it, could become the harsh means of fettering the human mind, not advancing it. And what they wanted, to the point of obsession, was a land of liberty, not a land where uniformity of view was the order of the day, and was enforced by priests, pastors, and pontiffs; different in their views, the same in their devices for achieving them; working each to control with bell, book, and candle.
They, too, were aware that such a land, so unfettered in its thoughts, a paradise for every believer not just one, had never existed in the history of mankind where uniformity of outlook reigned as the desired objective. As a result the Founding Fathers, here as elsewhere, found themselves on the cutting-edge of this crucial matter of statecraft and belief…. and they gave the matter their utmost consideration… for no question exercised them more that what they could do to place the people of the new republic into a proper, sustained relationship with their common Creator.
They selected a solution Erastian, latitudinarian, tolerant.
Tolerance for all, hegemony and control for none. This became their guiding light , and they found vital sustenance for it amongst the works of Thomas Erastus, (1524-1583), a 16th century German physician and theologian. He held that the punishment of all offenses should be referred to the civil power and that holy communion was open to all. Thus should the church and its ministers be made subservient to the officials of the government, rather than these officials of the government made subservient to the church and its ministers.
They looked, too, to the cool reason of John Locke (1632-1704), who advocated, first and foremost, a tolerance which had, perhaps, never been seen before… a latitudinarian whose profound thoughts once glimpsed became the abiding vision of all sensible people, and the basis for civil peace, not internecine strife.
From such beginnings did the idea of religious tolerance grow, until at last it was written and proclaimed in the First Amendment, as the very essence of what we stood for as a Great Republic and who we wanted to be. Thus as the Founding Fathers surveyed it, they saw their work whole… and knew it to be a great resolution to a great problem, a great policy indeed for the Great Republic.
.. and from the moment of its inception it has done its work…
JFK, admirable in Houston.
Then John Fitzgerald Kennedy ran for president… and many people worried that as a Roman Catholic he would sabotage this verity, pledging instead fealty to the Bishop of Rome, rather than the Great Republic. And so, he went to Houston where before the Greater Houston Ministerial Association he presented himself and his views. The date was September 12, 1960… and it was perhaps his most admirable day on Earth; for on this day he stated with vehemence and resolution these words:
“I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute.” And if, perhaps, he did not persuade all the reverend doctors present (for some were not to be persuaded) he did persuade the people of the Great Republic, who in their turn elected him…thus proving with their ballots the kind of inclusive, tolerant, pacific society they desired and affirmed.
It is this society, this vision, the most profound ever imagined that one little man has challenged, in a way at once crude, graphic and alarming.
“I don’t believe in an America where the separation of church and state are absolute.” Rick Santorum, (College of Saint Mary Magdalen, Warner, New Hampshire, October 2011 and reaffirmed thereafter).
“The idea that the church can have no influence or no involvement in the operation of the state is absolutely antithetical to the objectives and visions of our country… to say that people of faith have no role in the public square? You bet that makes me want to throw up.”
This is the statement of a zealot, a demagogue, a radical… and thus a danger to the community, the comity, the country… and to the Great Republic itself.
The firewall called Michigan held… but barely.
The results are now counted in Michigan which Tuesday, February 28, 2012 held one of the most important presidential primaries ever, and by just the smallest of margins denied Santorum and his radical views, views that would roil the essential verities of the Great Republic and divide the people.
Is this the end of the war then? Alas, no. For this battle, which sensible citizens thought was settled centuries ago by the expansive vision of the Founding Fathers, is under attack by incendiaries like Santorum who mean to light their way to the God they arrogantly suppose they know with autos-da-fe, a ghastly light unto eternity.
That is why the rest of us must remain vigilant, for a right undefended is a right at risk… and this right has been too hard won to be threatened, much less eviscerated and destroyed, by a man like Santorum, for all that he fancies himself the agent of God and his Holy Will.
** What do you think? We invite your comments below.
About the Author
Harvard-educated Dr. Jeffrey Lant is CEO of Worldprofit, Inc., providing a wide range of online services for small and-home based businesses. Services include home business training, affiliate marketing training, earn-at-home programs, traffic tools, advertising, webcasting, hosting, design, WordPress Blogs and more. Find out why Worldprofit is considered the # 1 online Home Business Training program by getting a free Associate Membership today. Details at worldprofit.com