Do Christian conservatives believe in the First Amendment?

While our support for religious freedom abroad might have limited resultants, we must remain vigilant at home.

Most Americans, religious or not, agree on the importance of religious freedom as enshrined in the First Amendment, though they disagree about specifics. Should the government promote religion? Give special tax breaks to religion? Favor one religion over another? Favor religion over non-religion? My answers are no, no, no, and no, and also no to the claim that the United States was founded as a Christian nation.

American interests often trump religious freedom abroad. Take our oil-rich ally Saudi Arabia, for example, probably the most theocratic country in the Middle East. Our government doesn’t loudly protest Saudi Arabia’s denial of basic human rights to women, as it imposes Islamic law on its citizens. Although 15 of the 19 hijackers responsible for 9/11 came from Saudi Arabia, we attacked Iraq even though Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with it. We attacked Iraq because, well, I’m still not sure.

While I often don’t know what we should do about complex foreign policy, I do know what we should not do either abroad or at home. We should not tell citizens or governments how to interpret holy books. Regardless of race, color, creed, gender, or sexual orientation, I think we can all come up with many good reasons to condemn suicide bombings. Unfortunately, our government came up with a bad reason. Presumably after delving deeply into nuances in the Koran, our State Department pronounced recent Iraq suicide bombers to be “enemies of Islam.”

There are interpretations of the Koran that justify suicide bombings, and interpretations that do not. There are interpretations of the Hebrew and Christian Bibles that justify killing infidels, and interpretations that do not. Did Jesus come to bring peace or a sword? In an attempt to ease troubles in Egypt, Pope Francis recently observed that faith and violence are incompatible. Not if you read a comprehensive history of religion.

I’ve heard debates between liberal and conservative Christians about whether homosexuality is natural or sinful. If I were judging based on their biblical arguments alone, I’d unfortunately have to decide that the winner is “sin.”

We are a secular country with secular laws that apply to all citizens. Our religious freedom allows individuals to practice and promote any religion or no religion without government interference. We can encourage other countries (and our own) to support human rights for humanistic reasons, but not by interpreting holy books. If we play with religion cards, the theocrats will always find alternate interpretations.

While our support for religious freedom abroad might have limited resultants, we must remain vigilant at home. Sharia law may be a problem in some Islamic countries, but not a possibility in secular America. That hasn’t stopped legislators, including some in my home state of South Carolina, from introducing bills to prevent Sharia law from being imposed on us. S.C. State Senator Mike Fair, a conservative Christian, introduced such a bill. His other bills have included mandating that sex education classes teach abstinence only, and that homosexual behavior is unnatural, unhealthy and illegal. An anti-evolutionist, he would also encourage public school teachers to critique evolution in their classrooms. Ironically, such bills sound a lot more like what you might expect from an Islamic country than a secular one. Fundamentalists in different religions have a lot in common, usually to the detriment of those who support religious freedom and diversity.

The esteemed legislators in South Carolina also decided on a foreign policy with Israel. A resolution passed in the state General Assembly refers to Israel’s “God-given right” to its territory. Reasonable secular arguments can be made about who deserves what territory, with the hope that there will eventually be a peaceful Middle East solution. But the South Carolina resolution implies that South Carolina and Israel are both governed by theocracies.

And talking about strange bedfellows, I find myself in bed with Louisiana Rep. Valarie Hodges because she no longer backs Gov. Bobbie Jindal’s school voucher program. She became horrified to discover that public money would go to Muslim schools in her state, not just to Christian schools. In her own words: “I actually support funding for teaching the fundamentals of America’s Founding Fathers’ religion, which is Christianity, in public schools or private schools. I liked the idea of giving parents the option of sending their children to a public school or a Christian school.”

I can’t think of a better argument for the separation of religion and government than the unintentional one provided by Rep. Hodges.

Image courtesy of Ed Uthman.

Herb Silverman
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  • JESabol3

    “Fundamentalists in different religions have a lot in common, usually to the detriment of those who support religious freedom and diversity.”
    This has been my train of thought for a long time. I am a gay man and couldn’t care less what those “holier-than-thou” think; there’s not a word or passage in the bible, the koran or any other religious book that will prove to me beyond the shadow of a doubt that I wasn’t born this way. However, I will not deny someone the ability to believe such things as part of their religion, regardless of how I fell about their beliefs. I firmly believe in letting all other religions co-exist; I just do not have to interact with nor fund directly or indirectly any of them.

  • JESabol3

    The only lines I draw in the sand are two: when the beliefs of another religion are the cause of material or bodily harm to someone not of the same religion and the attempt to change someone over to your own religion whether it be forced/coerced or simple evangelization. You can believe whatever you want, provided you are not harming anyone or inciting anyone to harm others. Believe whatever you will; just do not try to ram it down another’s throat nor proselytize to “the masses.”

  • JESabol3

    If someone is curious and expresses an interest, that’s fine. Don’t go door-to-door or bicycle through the poor neighborhoods looking to convert. And especially do not go to a foreign country and try to convert, expecting the US government and military to protect you. If one wants to go and evangelize in a nation that is openly hostile to other religions, it should be on their own neck to take care of themselves, not the US government. The implications of protecting “missionaries” of any sort, who go to a country where their religion is not welcome, are that your government favors one religion over another, is there-by not secular and there-by not equal in its laws.

  • whyudothis

    While I have a ton of issues with this article, I’ll focus on the most ridiculous. “Did Jesus come to bring peace or a sword?” If this is your argument for a violent interpretation of Christianity, then you clearly haven’t been paying attention. 1 passage out of thousands in the New Testament can, in no way, be used as a solid basis for a violent interpretation of the Bible. Furthermore, it doesn’t take a high level Biblical scholar to figure out that this is a spiritual, not a physical reference. Any solid Christian lives to emulate Christ, Christ didn’t advocate violence or bringing harm to others. The idea that somehow you can lump Christians into the group of potentially violent extremists is beyond ridiculous. Is it possible for someone to twist the Bible to advocate for ridiculous ideologies? Yes. Does that mean that the Bible itself, in any honest interpretation, advocates for such things? No. Anything, really, can be twisted to support a violent or extreme belief system, but that doesn’t make the original belief, premise, or theory violent. This attitude that all religions are somehow equal in terms of violent tendencies is absurd and is dangerous, as it masks the real problems we face with non issues. Focus on the religion whose prophet slaughtered the non believers, not the one whose God gave himself into the hands of his oppressors.

  • inreasonitrust

    It is funny to talk about Christian Conservatives or Muslim Hardliners or Jewish Moderates or Modern Hindus etcetera. Religion and freedom does not go together. Islam says everyone is free but under the flag of Islam, Christians say the same but as long as you come to Jesus, same with Jews, and on and on. Let us not to be naive. Religion and violence are inseparable. Religion is like a sharp knife that can cut the throat if need be.

  • edwills

    “Did Jesus come to bring peace or a sword?” You find benign interpretations, while those in the Crusades did not. I think the point of the article is that people can pick and choose whatever passages they like to justify their behavior. You are free to explain to others why Christianity is so wonderful, but it is not the government’s job to promote Christianity or any other religion

  • edwills

    You can proselytize all you want, just as Muslims can. Just don’t hurt others who don’t believe as you do. Hint: You’ll not get many converts by quoting from a book that people believe is made up by humans.

  • edwills

    There are some wars not caused by religion, but most are.

  • Catken1

    Christianity differs from Islam simply in that most majority-Christian nations are post-Enlightenment secular democracies with de facto, if not de jure, freedom of religion.
    When Christians control the state in the name of Christianity, the results have been brutal theocracies, just as with every other religion given control of a state.

  • leibowde84

    Yeah, and never be the guy who is like: “Come on, I am so happy and smart and I’ve figured out everything. If you only believe the exact same thing as me you will be super awesome too. If you don’t, you will be destined to an unfulfilling life and burning fire for eternity. It is so essential that you believe what I believe that you could be the best, most moral person on earth, and still you would burn in fire for eternity, simply because you didn’t buy into my system of beliefs.”

    - That’s all I ask.

  • leibowde84

    Edwills, that is ridiculous. The Crusades were an attempt to take back territory (the holy land) in a pursuit of pride. No one would ever defend such actions, as we all know they were without merit. It was hundreds of years ago, and we have come a long way since then. Trying to connect Christianity at this point with the Crusades is like blaming a 12 year old living in the south for Slavery (and much worse actually).

    Jesus, whether you believe that he was the messiah or not, changed the entire world by preaching compassion and forgiveness at a time when even the Jewish people, the most understanding and peaceful in that part of the world, taught that justice meant punishment (“eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth”). Although many Christians have, in my humble opinion, misinterpreted the teachings of the man, I still wholeheartedly believe that, at least in his name, compassion and understanding brought the world, albeit eventually over a long course of destruction, out of barbarianism.

  • leibowde84

    To claim that Christianity has no merit is to ignore very apparent progress throughout history.

  • leibowde84

    There are a great deal of problems with the institution of the RCC, but it is still essential to recognize that, theology apart, even the Catholic Church has brought a great deal of good to the world.

  • eal1

    I prefer my government be secular, and its laws, regulations, policies, etc. be based on reason – not a religious text of any kind. I believe that’s exactly what our Founding Fathers envisioned.

  • Catken1

    Christianity does in fact have meritorious aspects, as does every other religion.
    But when it is in control of governments, as with most other religions, the most fundamentalist factions quickly take over (as they are the most vehement) and the inevitable result is cruelty, oppression, and even mass murder.
    Not that Christianity is unusual or particularly awful in that regard – the dangers of letting religion run the state are common to most religions.

  • vijayk

    Jesus actually said: I came not to bring peace, but a sword. In context Jesus was a warning to the “Religious Pharisee” that His coming was to set the captives free. That is the principle of Christianity. Christian principles are sound and good that is why they found their way into the Constitution, Jesus Christ’s argument was with the Religious rulers never the “unbeliever” . The pilgrim left England because of religious bondage and corrupted government.

  • h5r2

    Christianity did not find its way into the Constitution. There is no mention of any religion. Though pilgrims left England to escape religious persecution, that didn’t stop the pilgrims from persecuting those in this country who did not share their religious faith. If you can point to any place in the Bible that promotes religious freedom, I’d like to hear about it.

  • SimonTemplar

    Of course what the author means is, “Do conservative Christians believe in HIS particular understanding of the First Amendment” which, to his mind, is the only possible way of viewing the First Amendment.

  • vijayk

    I believe the comment was “Christian Principles” not Christianity found it’s way into the constitution. Ref: Galatians 5:13
    English Standard Version (ESV)
    For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.

  • Bob Alob

    No, of course what the author means is that Christians are a bunch of hypocrites trying to impose their chosen religion on the entire populace, while doing things like prohibiting Sharia Law (Muslim imposing of religion) and withdrawing support for school vouchers when they realize that non-Christian religious schools can use them too….

  • h5r2

    Simon,
    Does your understanding of the First Amendment agree with Rep. Hodges, that public money can be used for Christian schools but not for Muslim schools?

  • h5r2

    Galatians 5:13 might be a good sentiment, but what does that have to do with the Constitution? We are not required to serve one another. It wasn’t until years later, after a civil war, that the Constitution was amended so that slaves would no longer be required to serve their masters. You won’t find anything in the Bible that condemns the principle of slavery.

  • vijayk

    Galatians 5:13 was a response to your request for me to point to a place in the Bible that promotes religious freedom. The Bible does condemn slavery! Slavery to sin being the most prevalent. The book of Exodus, Philemon addresses corrupt slavery . In the book of Deuteronomy chapter 15 there is instruction on how to correctly treat a slave: “15:12 “If your brother, a Hebrew man or a Hebrew woman, is sold to you, he shall serve you six years, and in the seventh year you shall let him go free from you. 13 And when you let him go free from you, you shall not let him go empty-handed. 14 You shall furnish him liberally out of your flock, out of your threshing floor, and out of your winepress. As the Lord your God has blessed you, you shall give to him. 15 You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God redeemed you; therefore I command you this today. 16 But if he says to you, ‘I will not go out from you,’ because he loves you and your household, since he is well-off with you, 17 then you shall take an awl, and put it through his ear into the door, and he shall be your slave[c] forever. And to your female slave[d] you shall do the same. 18 It shall not seem hard to you when you let him go free from you, for at half the cost of a hired worker he has served you six years. So the Lord your God will bless you in all that you do.”
    There are many instances of corruption within the Christian faith and will be as long as man attempts to glorify himself using Christianity to mask his motive.

  • h5r2

    Does that mean you think it’s good to have slaves if you treat them correctly, as the bible indicates? Wouldn’t a loving god condemn the practice of slavery, rather than just accommodate it?

  • Rongoklunk

    “Let us return once more to the question of religious doctrines. We can now repeat that all of them are illusions and insusceptible of proof. No one can be compelled to think them true, to believe in them. Some of them are so improbable – so incompatible with everything we have laboriously discovered about the reality of the world, that we may compare them to delusions. Of the reality value of most of them we cannot judge; just as they cannot be proved, so they cannot be refuted.”
    Freud, from “The Future of An Illusion.”

  • vijayk

    I believe it is “good” for me to treat people correctly period as the bible indicates I should. Slavery exists today all over the world ie: Employer/employee relationship, pimp/prostitute, gangs or any circumstance where someone is or becomes dependent on someone or something for their existence or provision. How can one find fault with the Christian principle of ” do unto others as you would have them do unto you” , “Love your neighbor as yourself”. Christianity is a way of life, it is not a title. It is not earned it is a gift, it is not a privilege it is a responsibility, it is not authority it is obedience. Oh that we as Christians would practice what we preach,

  • h5r2

    Versions of “Do unto others…” were around long before Jesus. The bible talks a lot about what to do, like not wearing mixed linens and silencing women in church. Why did it not condemn slavery? Could it be because the bible was written by misogynistic men who liked the institution of slavery, since they weren’t slaves?

  • ThomasBaum

    If religious freedom does not apply to all, believer and non-believer alike, than it applies to no one, isn’t this quite simply what religious freedom is?

    However, this religious freedom does not give anyone the right to cram their religion down anyone else’s throat.

    As I see it, anyone that believes that Jesus Is God-Incarnat that tries to cram Christianity down anyone else’s throat is spitting in God’s Face, seeing as Jesus forced Himself on no one.

  • ThomasBaum

    h5r2

    You wrote, “If you can point to any place in the Bible that promotes religious freedom, I’d like to hear about it.”

    Did Jesus force Himself on anyone?

  • ThomasBaum

    Herb Silverman

    You asked, “Did Jesus come to bring peace or a sword?

    Jesus did come to bring the “sword” but it is not the man-made sword that you seem to think it to be.

  • Louise10

    Then why do so many Christians spit in God’s Face? By your fruits shall ye shall know them.

  • Karin Karejanrakoi

    “Fundamentalists in different religions have a lot in common…”

    Indeed, it is interesting to note that god-botherers like Uncle Sam get on better with other god-botherers than with atheists. It certainly seems that having invisible friends – even if such beings don’t get on with each other – unites people in a shared madness that allows them to communicate and form alliances.

  • esmith4102

    For all it’s blemishes, only a secular state can be the final arbiter of the Establishment Clause of our Constitution, the only rational protector of all our liberties and under whose umbrella all religions are protected from each other.
    Opposition to a secular state is the path to needless discord and the nonsensical sentiment: my way or the highway!

  • h5r2

    Rep. Hodges wanted Christianity favored, but she didn’t force herself on anyone. There is a difference between advocating for religious freedom in the marketplace of ideas and not foring yourself on anyone. Where does Jesus say anything about his being comfortable with people choosing any religion or none?

  • ThomasBaum

    Karin Karejanrakoi

    From the article you wrote, “”Fundamentalists in different religions have a lot in common…” ”

    They also seem to have some things in common with atheist fundamentalists.

  • leibowde84

    Agreed. Religion should never play any role in Governmental action.

  • ThomasBaum

    Louise10

    You asked, “Then why do so many Christians spit in God’s Face? By your fruits shall ye shall know them.”

    Seems to be more of a human thing rather than a believer or non-believer thing for some to believe/think that they are better than others and as I am trying to point out this “better than others” thing is not restricted just to “religious” beliefs.

  • edwills

    Atheists cannot be fundamentalists, since they are willing to change their beliefs when they have evidence.

  • leibowde84

    I would have to agree with edwills on this one. Atheists cannot be fundamentalists because, by definition, their views are subject to change thru the development of evidence. Religious fundamentalists do not allow physical evidence, scientific knowledge, or personal experience to change the dogma spewed from their religious entities. If God showed himself to us, I’m sure atheists would all change their minds.

  • leibowde84

    Some people have the mistaken belief that their job as a follower of Jesus is to convert others thru any means necessary. They use fear of damnation as their main weapon, which is literally spitting in the face of Jesus, who taught never to use the Word as a weapon of this kind.

  • jay2drummer

    Yeah. When it comes to atheists, there are certainly atheist EXTREMISTS (people who are radically anti-religious to the point where they seek to ridicule religion and have any public displays of religious belief eliminated), but they tend to stick to Reddit, rather than politics.

  • leibowde84

    Jay2Drummer, I get your point, but it is important to understand the vast difference between the term “fundamentalist” and “extremist.” Obviously there are those that fit into both definitions, but atheists, by definition, cannot.

    fun·da·men·tal·ism [ fùndə mént'l ìzzəm ]
    1.movement with strict view of doctrine: a religious or political movement based on a literal interpretation of and strict adherence to doctrine, especially as a return to former principles
    2.support for literal explanation: the belief that religious or political doctrine should be implemented literally, not interpreted or adapted

    I don’t see how an atheist, who adheres to the principle that views can change thru the discovery of evidence, can be a “fundamentalist.”

  • Rusty Yates

    Freedom of religion is blasphemy and a death sentence according to scripture.

  • jay2drummer

    It’s also guaranteed by the US Constitution.

  • jay2drummer

    I agree there’s a difference, but you know as well as I do that when it comes to politics, they’re often used as interchangeable. They’re not, obviously, just like “Islamic/Muslim” and “Islamist” is not.

    And many atheists don’t adhere to the principle that views can change, they simply believe there is no God or supreme being/higher power (the definition of atheism).

  • ThomasBaum

    leibowde84

    Some seem to think that the Good News is that they can pick up a get out of hell card and tough luck on those that don’t.

    If the Good News is not the ultimate reconciliation of all of humanity and God than not only is it not Good News than it is horrific news.

  • ThomasBaum

    h5r2

    Where does Jesus say that He is uncomfortable with this.

    If Rep. Hodges didn’t force herself on anyone, she most definitely spit on the Freedom of Religion thing.

  • ThomasBaum

    Rusty Yates

    Which scripture?

  • edwills

    The Good News for Universalists is that everyone goes to heaven. Does it upset you to believe there is no hell?

  • ThomasBaum

    edwills

    You asked, “Does it upset you to believe there is no hell?”

    I have never, ever said that there is no hell, on the contrary I have said that I know that hell is real and so is spiritual death.

    What I have said is that Jesus in doing what He did not only went to hell but went to everyone’s hell since hell is not the monolithic place that many seem to think it to be but is custom built by its occupant.

    In doing this, Jesus “won” the “keys” to everyone’s hell and will use these keys in due time, God’s Time, to set the captives free.

    What makes hell even worse, so to speak, than it is, is that whoever goes to hell will come to the realization that they built it themself and I believe will not know that they are getting out.

    The Good News is that God cares for ALL even if some do not want this to be as long as they get to the “good place” and God can “clean anyone up even after physical death”.

    If you believe that Jesus is God-Incarnate, do you or do you not believe that Jesus took ALL of the sins of ALL of humanity, past, present and to come, upon Himself on the cross?

  • PhillyJimi1

    Jay you’re wrong. You’re thinking like a theist when you’re defining an atheist.

    I am an atheist because I have found no evidence to support any god or gods. The evidence presented to me is not creditable and it is contradictory.

    But If god of the bible appeared to me tomorrow I wouldn’t worship the evil manic but I would believe he is real based on this new evidence.

    The evidence presented to me is an old book written by 2000 year old sheep herders about a zombie god born of a virgin that died to create a loop hole for the fruit eating crimes of the first rib woman. When you look at it from the year 2013 it is rather comical if you allow yourself to examine it on it’s face value.

    I believe in some gods like Ra, the sun god of ancient Egypt. The sun is real. I don’t deny the Sun. I reject the claim that the Sun is a god named Ra. It is just a very common star. If new evidence not a faith claim is presented to me I will consider it.

    You’re claim that “… many Atheists don’t adhere to the principle that views can change…” is completely wrong.

  • PhillyJimi1

    Of course Thomas you know it all, can I ask exactly how do you know any of this to be true?

    It is just mind blowing how you know the exact mind of god the creator of the Universe. You know “…hell is not the monolithic place that many seem to think it to be but is a custom built by it’s occupant.” You’re so special in the eye of god, that he has shared this special knowledge with you and you alone. That must make you feel so special. While the rest of us get to burn in hell forever.

    As if there is any difference between heaven and hell? Just think about how long forever is in heaven I mean after a trillion trillion years raised to the trillionth power to listen to Christian rock you’ll beg Jesus every day to kill you once and for all. Heaven would be the same as hell. Stuck in forever and ever and ever… I can’t think of a worse torture.

  • PhillyJimi1

    The founding father only believed white land owning males had the right to vote. They owned slaves. They did create a frame work for us to work from and they believe in principles they themselves didn’t live up to.

    Perhaps the best was the elimination of religion from government but Christians have been twisting that for years and politicians have ignored it to gain easy votes.

  • jay2drummer

    I am thinking as a person who recognizes my personal experience doesn’t reflect all people. Your reasons for being atheist are yours, but not everyone thinks like you, even many atheists. If, as you claim in the the Sun God, you are, by definition, not atheist, you just don’t follow Judeo-Christianic-Islamic views on God. The term “atheist” means “a person who does not believe in a deity.” It has nothing to do with whether your views are open to change or not. Many religious people, myself included, accept facts and base our wold views on them, while also recognizing they are not mutually contradictory to belief in God (absence of proof is not proof of absence). Just because you don’t believe in the same God I do or the God Pat Robertson does doesn’t make you an atheist. The Sun is real, but that doesn’t mean there’s a Sun God. If, as you claim, you believe in a Sun God, then you believe in some form of God, which makes you NOT an atheist.

  • leibowde84

    Yeah, I’m pretty sure Rusty is a bit confused. When you think that your religion is the only plausible one and you feel as if everyone who doesn’t adhere to it is doomed for eternity, you are a nutcase.

  • leibowde84

    The term “atheist” used to be used to describe Christians. The reasoning was that, unlike most Romans, they did not believe in any of the Roman Gods. Whereas, Romans were free to believe in the Christian/Hebrew God in addition to their dieties. The term “atheist” usually means someone who merely doesn’t believe in what the majority considers to be God. But, that is a historical fact not really related to this conversation.

    But, I would argue, by definition, atheists must be open to change. Science constantly provides evidence that changes the way we see physical aspects of our world. Any atheist today who claims to base his views on evidence would have to adhere to this truth.

  • jay2drummer

    Again, being atheist has nothing to do with whether you adhere to facts and base your world views on them. Belief in God and science are not in any way contradictory, given many of the brightest scientific minds have been atheists.

  • Joel Hardman

    I don’t think Herb is the person you need to convince that Jesus’ sword is metaphorical.

    In any case, you appear to be using the trusty scriptural interpretation algorithm:

    1. Do I like what this passage says?

    IF YES > Literally true.

    IF NO > Metaphor.

  • ThomasBaum

    Joel Hardman

    I’m not trying to convince Herb or anyone else.

    As far as the “sword thing” if one looks at more than just that one verse than it seems as if the ole “double edged sword” spoken of in other places is the one Jesus is speaking of.

    Why do some seem to be bothered by others using their God-given thinking and pondering ability while others accuse believers of never using their thinking and pondering ability, almost seems as if no matter what one does, there will be others to look down on them for it, doesn’t that seem to be the case?

    As I have said in other places, this “looking down on others” seems to be more of a human thing rather than just limited to either believers or non-believers.