“Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” John Adams.
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.
Now let’s break this down. The first part obviously instructs that Congress will not make laws that elevate one theistic religion over another to a point of primacy. The time in which the Constitution was drafted was a time of very few options in what was called religion. There was Roman Catholicism, Anglicanism, and Protestantism. Outside of these, other systems weren’t recognized by the writers of the Constitution as religions. Other systems were thought of as paganism. Paganism was not given consideration as a religion. Just imagine the founding Fathers considering satanism as a religion when they were writing the Constitution. Never in their wildest imaginings did they think that we would be considering, satanism, hinduism, buddhism, or islam as true religions. Since they weren’t in the realm of consideration as religions, they were not covered under the 1st Amendment.
The second clause states that Congress cannot prohibit the free exercise of the first three religions that I mentioned. (Protestantism, Anglicanism, and Roman Catholicism) Under the pale of Protestantism there are several denominations. Some have become heretical, but that is a matter for the Church to work through with Church discipline. It is not a matter for the Congress. So only something under the three religions above was considered true religion by the framers of our Constitution. They obviously didn’t consider the various religions of the Native Americans to be real religions. They called them savages, or pagans, just like they called the Hindus pagans. When you read their writings, you can see what they intended when they wrote the Constitution.
The next section guarantees our freedom to say whatever we would like to say, or print whatever we would like to print. It would not be stretching the historical context to assume that these freedoms would apply to the radio, television, and the internet now, and the Supreme Court has agreed. Again, considering the quote at the top of this article, they would not have imagined anyone wanting to spread pornography, profanity, or anything that would violate the morals of the specified religious systems.
What does it mean to, “peaceably assemble?” It doesn’t mean blocking the freeway so a politician can’t get to a rally. That impedes the free travel of other citizens without due process. It doesn’t mean a neighborhood can riot because they don’t like the way law enforcement behaves. It does mean that you can stand out front of federal building and picket. It does mean you can camp out on public land in protest while the government prepares to address your grievances. It doesn’t mean the government should come and kill you for exercising your right.
It is interesting that the, “occupy wall street” nuts didn’t get shot by federal agents while they impeded the rights of other citizens. We live in a day and age where the Constitution is being read with a cultural hermeneutic instead of a historical one that considers the intents of the authors. People attempt to read the Bible with that same cultural hermeneutic. They ask, “How should I understand this section of scripture given today’s consensus about the topic?” Instead of asking, “How should I understand this section of scripture considering God’s intentions for having it penned, who His intended audience was, how do we apply to us in this day and age keeping in mind His intent?” So as long as the secular popularists are the arbiters of good and evil, right and wrong, we will have an ever changing and interpretation of all of our foundational presuppositions, and as we well know, if you don’t build your house on the rock of Christ, it will be washed away when the storms of life come crashing in. All other ground is sinking sand.