American Genesis: Personal Behavior

             While many of the states recognized a right to worship, Vermont went further, adding in Chapter I, Article III of its Declaration of Rights: 

             “All men have a natural and unalienable right to worship God according to the dictates of their own consciences and understandings, as in their opinion shall be regulated by the Word of God.” 

             Vermont’s Framers believed that no man, under the reign of God, has a right to blaspheme God under the guise of liberty. This is similar to the biblical principle in I Peter 2:16:

             “…do not use your freedom as a cover–up for evil…” (NIV) 

             Part of Vermont’s encouragement had to do with the day of worship. To quote the same article: 

             “Every sect or denomination of Christians ought to observe the Sabbath, or Lord’s day, and keep up some sort of religious worship, which to them shall seem most agreeable to the revealed will of God.” 

             Notice that this clause did not require non-Christians to attended worship. More important, where is the “revealed will of God” found? The Framers understood this only as being the Bible. 

             Christians often quote Jesus from Matthew 22:21, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s,” forgetting that while men are subject to government, government must also be subject to God. Government instituted by men should recognize what is due man, and what is due God. Vermont recognized this and inscribed it in their founding document in 1793, two years after the U.S. Bill of Rights was adopted. Insofar as each elected representative was concerned, including scriptural principles and religious freedom in government were something they went out of their way to do. But for modern day America, unfamiliar with the intent of the Framers of each state, how far does that inclusion go? What should be permitted in the name of a “right to worship God according to the dictates of conscience?” 

            The U.S. First Amendment states, 

             “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” 

             Should the government permit the use of illegal drugs for religious rituals? Some people who practice witchcraft use animal blood and sacrifice as part of their rites. Should animal cruelty laws be relaxed for them? There are those in extreme corners of the New Age movement that believe men and women must find new sexual partners every few years in order to ascend to higher levels of spirituality. Should divorce laws accommodate these people? Some believe that homosexuality should be encouraged from the pulpit—which would violate the religious teachings of many sects; thus becoming a violation of religious freedom. Many of the aforementioned behaviors are already illegal, to say nothing of immoral. Was the First Amendment ever intended to give these expressions legal protection? 

             Four states, all before 1840, adopted clauses in their first constitutions that addressed the problem of religious freedom used for evil purposes. Three of the four states, Connecticut, New York, and South Carolina were among the first thirteen states under the federal Constitution. One, Mississippi, joined the Union as the 20th state. The clause in each constitution is virtually identical among the four, with a one word edition, “conscience,” in South Carolina’s. To quote: Connecticut’s Article I Section 3, New York’s Article VII, Section 3, Mississippi’s Article I, Section 3, and South Carolina’s Article VIII, Section 1, 

             “…the liberty of conscience thereby declared, shall not be so construed as to excuse acts of licentiousness, or justify practices inconsistent with the peace and safety of the state.” 

             To really understand this, we have to understand what licentiousness is. Regrettably, if this was any other century, licentiousness would not need explaining, nor why the Founding Fathers opposed religious and legal license for such acts. A good definition of licentiousness comes from commentator William Barclay. 

             Licentiousness “is the action of a man who is at the mercy of his passions, and his impulses, and his emotions, and in whom the voice of calm reason has been silenced by the storms of self–will…(it) is violent, insolent, abusive, audacious… completely indifferent to public opinion and to public decency.”

             The second U.S. President, John Adams, put it quite succinctly:

 “Public and private virtue are the only foundation of republics.”

             Recognizing rights to worship and religious profession, early American statesmen knew that when a freedom was recognized, that freedom might be used as a tool to circumvent public good. They understood this to be true regarding all recognized rights when enacting the Ninth Amendment to the U.S. Bill of Rights.

             “The enumeration of the Constitution of certain rights shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.” 

             Notice that word “construed.” It implies change, a twist, or an application to something, or for something, other than that which was intended. Using freedom for evil purposes was well understood by the men of 18th and 19th century life. They understood it from the biblical perspective having been influenced by the scriptures in education.

God’s law in Israel was of higher authority than even the King. Priests acted as judges in civil and criminal cases, but they could not strike down or nullify any of God’s laws. The King could judge cases and he could enact laws; but his laws could not supersede God’s laws. Priests could not change or alter the King’s laws. The King also had limited power. 

             Animal sacrifice, bloodletting, pornography, abortion, euthanasia, and drug use for religious ceremonies—are they protected by the First Amendment? The debate will rage on for those who view religious practice as a matter of conscience only, with no significant role socially or eternally. It is doubtful such acts were intended for protection. America’s settlers didn’t leave their European homelands over the right to be anarchists. They understood that religious freedom comes with civil responsibilities.

             Animal sacrifice, bloodletting, pornography, abortion, euthanasia, and drug use for religious ceremonies—are they protected by the First Amendment? The debate will rage on for those who view religious practice as a matter of conscience only, with no significant role socially or eternally. It is doubtful such acts were intended for protection. America’s settlers didn’t leave their European homelands over the right to be anarchists. They understood that religious freedom comes with civil responsibilities.

Tomorrow: Judges as Legislators

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