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The Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol.
Associated Press/Photo by J. Scott Applewhite
The Rotunda of the U.S. Capitol.

Congress shall make 'no law'

Religious Liberty

How many people realize how simple the First Amendment to the Constitution is? It contains only 46 words. Here it is.

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 of the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Here it is broken down clearly. Congress shall make no law respecting these four heart issues:

  1. The establishment of an official federal religion;
  2. Prohibiting the free exercise of a person’s personal religious beliefs;
  3. Keeping any person—including journalists—from speaking their mind, 
  4. Preventing people from assembling peacefully, so they may present their complaints to the authorities.

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Here are two major mistakes we’ve made in implementing the amendment:

First, it declares that Congress shall make “no law” concerning these prohibitions. “No law” seems to be clear, yet we all know that there have been, are, and will be a plethora of laws, regulations, administration rulings, and court decisions restricting the free exercise of Christian beliefs. Why the confusion over “no law?” It seems clear that the founders viewed these heart issues as critical!

Second, we have set an arbitrary priority on these injunctions, making one heart issue trump all the others. The amendment does not say that one of the four is more important than the other three, nor does it prioritize them. Yet our government officials have chosen to make the first proscription more important than the others. They bend over backwards to make sure no one exercises Christian religious activity in the public arena. They stop individuals from exercising personal religious beliefs, even if it infringes on free speech and peaceful assembly. Why have we the people allowed those who serve us to impose arbitrarily a priority in the amendment that is not there?

We ought not to want the establishment of a government-sanctioned denomination, whether Baptist, Presbyterian, Episcopal, Methodist, Catholic, or otherwise. But to exclude spiritual considerations from the arena of ideas, labeling them as pariahs to civil and helpful discourse, is to spell our own doom as a nation. There is no solution: to Middle East problems, gun violence, racial harmony, and dealing adequately with social justice, apart from spiritual considerations. To think otherwise is the height of human arrogance—and our poor record of solving problems at their root is proof that we are failing at an exponential rate.

Let us as Christians show the same persistence as our adversaries in exercising our freedom of worship and expression with “NO RESTRICTIONS!”

Bill Newton
Bill Newton

Bill is a pastor based in Asheville, N.C. He also serves as a member of God World Publications' board of directors.

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