Americans boast about our freedoms to everyone who will listen. The US Constitution and Bill of Rights stand tall as beacons to liberty, justice, and equality.
Enshrined in the Bill of Rights, in the very first amendment, is the freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom to protest, and right to a free and fair press.
The clause defining freedom of religion is known as “The Establishment Clause.”
The Establishment Clause
The actual text of the First Amendment reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
United States citizens, political leaders, and judicial experts have long interpreted this to mean that the US can’t establish a state religion and that everyone has the freedom to practice their religion in whatever manner deemed suitable to them. Many even interpret it as a freedom from belief, saying that the free exercise thereof should also include the freedom not to exercise.
Separation of Church and State
The freedom of religion guaranteed by the First Amendment has long been considered the separation of church and state.
This terminology originated in letters from Founding Father Thomas Jefferson, in letters he wrote to a Baptist Association. In it, he discusses the Establishment Clause and how it relates to religious freedom.
Here’s what Jefferson said:
“Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.”
Modern Republicans Reject Jefferson’s Interpretation
Modern Republicans, many of whom claim they’re originalists (meaning they try to interpret the Constitution as it was written by our Founding Fathers who wrote it), reject Jefferson’s interpretation of the Establishment Clause.
They claim that the words “Separation of Church and State” aren’t in the Constitution, so that’s not what the writer meant. But we know that’s what the writers intended because Jefferson was the writer, and Jefferson explained what he meant in these letters.
He explained his exact intention behind the Establishment Clause.
Modern Republicans just don’t like his answer.
Shifting the Goal Posts on Separation of Church and State
Many modern Republicans, and not just fringe extremists, want to shift the meaning of the Establishment Clause.
Recently, Mike Johnson, the Speaker of the House and 2nd in line to the Presidency claimed the Founding Fathers wanted faith to be a big part of American Society.
He called the separation of Church and State a misnomer and claimed people misunderstood it. Johnson said that the Establishment Clause only goes one way – that the government should not interfere with religion, but it was never intended to go the other way to keep religion out of the government.
Of course, the person who wrote the clause disagreed, as evidenced in his statement about a wall of separation between the two entities, but modern Republicans reject his interpretation because they want to instill a theocracy upon the American people.
You Can’t Have One Without the Other
What Republicans don’t understand is that it is impossible for influence to only flow one way. The Church can’t influence the government without the government pushing a religion onto the people.
Theocracy emerges when the two intermingle, resulting in a government that enforces one group’s religious mores on everyone else.
Republicans dance around the topic, but they’ve actually admitted this is what they want.
People who celebrate the rise in Christian nationalism and America’s pivot towards theocracy all assume the nation will embrace their specific religious flavor.
This “State Religion” will be decided by the people in power, and like we’ve seen in other theocracies, it will morph to fit their agendas.
Christians may not care that Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, or Athiest people become subjugated under the religious state, but maybe Baptists, Evangelicals, and Pentecostals will start to realize it’s a bad idea when their specific beliefs get targeted by Catholics, for example.
How This Story Goes
The most horrifying thing is that we all know where this story goes. We’ve seen religious theocracies in action in the Middle East. We have a wide range of literature that imagines a world where a religious group takes over. Experts write theses on how these things happen and warn us of the results.
We all know.
It results in the subjugation and oppression of millions of people. Women, a full 50% of the population, become second-class citizens. In some countries, women aren’t even allowed in public without their owners…I mean male relatives.
Some men want this. They crave theocracy because it gives them their deepest desire: a woman to possess, own, and control.
What they don’t realize is that they’ll be crushed under the boot of religious oppression, too. Men without money or power will be oppressed and subjugated right alongside the women. The arts get canceled, self-actualization becomes a sin, and people may only engage in state (religious) sanctioned activities.
No one will be free to pursue happiness. No one will have liberty, and there will be no justice.
We must band together to stop this destruction of American principles before it’s too late.
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