Letter to the Editor

"The problem with freedom"

Friday, March 7, 2014

Dear Editor:

In a recent column (dialogue with Jerry Wadel), regarding the U.S. Constitution, my observation was that the Constitution awarded us "freedom of religion."

That is accepted by a great majority of citizens. I also said that it includes "freedom from religion." How can one have "freedom of" without also having "freedom from?"

There is great danger in limiting freedom. Dr. Ron Jones disagreed with my view in a letter to the Editor. Since one of the purposes outlined for the "dialogues" is to promote discussion, some addition of my reasoning might be helpful.

Let me amplify my comments, then give a few examples that show the need for "freedom from religion."

First: Many who came to this country were hoping for real freedom. Some had lived where "the state" had an established religion chosen by the ruler(s) or the church. In some cases, the public was taxed to support the church and pay salaries of the clergy.

To be a citizen, one had to live, worship as the church dictated. Given this experience, framers of the Constitution did not want "an established religion."

They wanted freedom to choose the form and method of worship. Put another way, they wanted freedom from worship or faith dictated by the state or by any group.

There was recognition that any group in a position of power begins to feel they know what is best for everyone, have laws that support their belief.

"Blue Laws" regulating commerce are a vestige of that belief and many have been cast off in my lifetime. A common belief is that conformity is a more comfortable way of life and everyone should "toe the mark" or move on.

In the United States, many Christians believe we were established as a Christian nation, and have the right to govern accordingly. In my work as a pastor, we have gone from a time when Sunday morning was the time for worship, Wednesday nights were reserved for church activity and schools (in smaller communities) recognized this fact.

Now, Sunday morning is not sacred and school personnel schedule required events and exclude the absent.

Many scholars and historians disagree with the assumption a Christian nation was established. The strongest position is that a nation cannot be Christian.

Today, one party, in states where they govern both legislative bodies and hold the governor's position, is working hard to establish laws while they have power.

These laws restrict certain behavior, based on a religious position, thus making some unable to "practice" their faith. Those who agree with the laws applaud the action, while those who disagree long for "freedom from such religion."

An extreme case of negating freedom from religion has been in the news recently. In a southern state, a public school teacher was teaching her beliefs about the Bible, giving special credit to those who could answer questions "properly" or include Bible verses in their papers.

A student of another faith group was held up for ridicule as being wrong, stupid for his beliefs, as was his faith group. Worship and prayer sessions were required by the school. Religious material by certain groups was given out and displayed in several ways.

The choice given the student was, "accept the behavior, leave school or convert to Christianity. No longer attending, that student is now in another school that holds and practices similar views.

Consider, carefully, your feelings as you read this description. I am grateful I live in a country that seeks to be free of bigotry, grants me the freedom to worship, or not worship as I choose.

I am especially grateful for a retired Presbyterian preacher in a Bible class I was required to take. He said 75 years ago, "There is no conflict between true science and true religion." If anyone would like to discuss any of these points rationally, I would be glad to do so.

Lester Thornton