Remember the history of our religious freedom this weekend

·4 min read

“Religious Freedom Day” is our national observance each Jan. 16 to celebrate America's historic religious freedom (i.e. freedom of belief).

It commemorates the date in 1786, when the Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom authored by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison (Virginians, Founders and Presidents) was enacted.

Virginia's landmark law mandated no person “... shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place or ministry whatsoever” and separated religion from government in Virginia. It provided the genesis for U.S. Constitution (Article VI [3] and First Amendment) separation of religion and government (aka: church and state separation)) established by the Founders and overwhelmingly supported by Americans today (Pew Research). Even Jesus reportedly separated government and religion (Matthew 22:21; Mark 12:17).

Freedom of belief (religious or non-religious) is an original American liberty. It was a basis for Article 18 of the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaiming “... everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion ...”

Beliefs are predominately determined by the family, geography and culture in which one happens to be born and raised. American children believe in Santa Claus, flying reindeer, elves, Easter bunnies, Halloween witches, tooth fairies, ghosts, angels, devils, gods, et al although no evidence exists for them.

They want, need and enjoy these beliefs that are byproducts of childhood obedience, imitation and gullibility.

American adults cease believing in most childhood myths but many continue to believe in gods, devils and angels because they want to believe and some need to believe. Comfort in belief is often preferred to accuracy. Religion prospers and profits by perpetuating these propensities. Other adults evolve to evidence based beliefs in humanity, nature, science, morality, etc.

World history confirms early civilizations created their own gods which continued as cultural creeds. Naturalist religions deified humans, animals and elements. Egalitarian religions deified children, women and men. Matriarchal religions deified women and motherhood. Patriarchal religions deified only males.

Humans created most gods in their own image. Biblical scripture affirms “... each national group made its own gods ...” (2 Kings 17:29). Renaissance Philosopher Michel de Montaigne advised “Man is certainly stark mad. He cannot make a worm, yet he will make gods by the dozens”.

The religious beliefs of America's original discovers and inhabitants, our indigenous people or Native Americans, consisted of animistic nature worship with animals, elements and geographic features revered as spiritual essences. The next discoverers and inhabitants, Vikings or Norsemen, practiced polytheistic paganism with numerous deities.

The religion of later European immigrants to America included varieties of Christianity imported from the ancient Middle East by way of Rome. The majority of American colonists fled Europe to escape religious oppression by the Church of England and Roman Catholic Church. When independence was declared in 1776, less than 20% of colonists belonged to religion establishments. Today, fewer than 50% of Americans belong to churches, synagogues or mosques (Gallup).

The religious freedom provided by our Constitution includes the military.

Armed Forces directives and regulations protect freedom of belief. For example, 221 different faith or belief groups for the military are recognized by the Department of Defense and 79 different faith or belief emblems for military graves are authorized by the Department of Veteran Affairs. Also, military chapels are available for religious worship and military chaplains are available for religious instruction.

Religious belief uniformity is non-existent. Diversity prevails worldwide. World Christian Encyclopedia records 10,000 distinct world religions with more than 2,000 different Christianities in America alone.

“Religion” is derived from the Latin “religare,” meaning “to bind.” Most religions claim exclusive truth rejecting others. Few respect diversity. Murderous rejection is mandated in Deuteronomy 13:6-10. American Philosopher Mark Twain observed “Man is the Religious Animal. He is the only animal that has the true religion – several of them.”

American religious freedom is a shield of protection providing every American the inalienable right guaranteed by the Constitution to determine, enjoy and practice her or his own religious or non-religious beliefs free from government favor or disfavor. It is never a sword of privilege to harm, discriminate against or impose religion on fellow Americans.

America is one of the most religiously diverse nations in the world. It is our proud American heritage of belief independence and the cornerstone of American individual liberties.

John Compere lives in Baird.

This article originally appeared on Abilene Reporter-News: Remember the history of our religious freedom