The Bill of Rights, Article 1
“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.”
When delineating the fundamental rights of citizens of the United States, the Founding Fathers began with the right to freedom of religion. Why? Because religion is so very important. Religion provides a metanarrative, an overarching story, which gives meaning to human existence. A metanarrative answers four fundamental questions:
- Where did we come from? (a Creator? An eternal universe? Something else?)
- Why are we here? (What is the meaning of human life? Of my life?)
- What went wrong? (Why is there suffering, evil, and death in the world? Why do they impact me?)
- Where are we going? (What is the end of the universe? Of me?)
A Christian metanarrative would answer that we are created, that our purpose is to honor God, that man introduced sin into the world, and that God will redeem the world at the end of time. A Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist, or other religious metanarrative would posit different answers. An atheist metanarrative might say that we came from a metaverse, we have no reason for existence outside of ourselves, society makes things wrong, and our only hope for enduring existence is to fix our societies. Many people have not thought through the metanarrative that they follow, and some argue that they have no metanarrative. They are wrong. Everyone has a set of core principles that guide their thoughts, words, and actions.
Early American leaders knew that existential questions had to be answered by every individual, rather than by a state religion, evidenced by churches in Europe, mosques in the Islamic World, and temples in India and Asia. As a result, our Founding Fathers guaranteed religious freedom, including the freedom to eschew any particular religion, in our Constitution. Since religions answer the deepest questions, they profoundly impact adherents. Religion, even if it masquerades as irreligion, comprises the glasses through which we see the world. Samuel Huntington in his seminal book, Clash of Civilizations, defines civilizational culture (Western, Latin American, Orthodox, Islamic, African, Hindu, Sinic, Japanese, Buddhist) fundamentally by religion.
Religious freedom is under attack throughout the world. Chinese leaders persecute Christians and Muslims. Many Hindu- and Buddhist-majority nations persecute those who do not share their national faith. Leaders in many Muslim-majority nations persecute Christians. Religious freedom is declining worldwide. Even in the United States, Christian businesses and employers have been discriminated against and heavily fined for operating their businesses according to their own beliefs. Section VIII of the 2020 West Virginia Republican Party Platform clearly delineates our stance promoting religious freedom. We support the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and oppose the creation of additional protected classes.
Religious freedom is a if not the fundamental freedom. We should all be thankful for it as we celebrate Thanksgiving, and defend it throughout the year. Let your family, friends, neighbors, and representatives know how important religious freedom is to us and in our nation. Ask them to help us defend it together.