“If a nation expects to be ignorant and free in a state of civilization, it expects what never has been and never will be,” Thomas Jefferson wrote in a letter in 1816.
The truth of his words bears out as many today, through failed understanding of the founding principles of our government, have relinquished the rights to freedom. But the first who came to these shores knew what they were looking for.
“The primary motive of a lot of the early settlers was religious freedom,” said Stephen McDowell, author and historian with the Providence Foundation. “From the pilgrims and the puritans, to William Penn and the Huguenots, so many early settlers came because they wanted religious freedom and incorporated that into the founding charters of the Colonies. It’s a central part of what America’s all about, a central reason that the United States was established in the first place.”
And so diligent and scrupulous efforts were taken to understand and establish how that freedom could be employed and protected. As McDowell described, it was a continuing process of promoting and training the people in the exercise of freedom. From the British Colonies’ founding charters, to the Declaration of Independence in 1776, the passage of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom in 1786, and the adoption of the First Amendment in 1791, the foundations for freedom were carefully built block by block as people’s minds were opened to the rare advantages and requirements of freedom.
But few today comprehend the same. Instead, the clear horizons of freedom that had been opened before the Founders have been muddied. In particular, it is common for Americans to misunderstand how freedom ought to function in three key areas: government, education, and, above all, religion.
In the modern, liberal mindset, the government is the player who decides and allows the rights that its citizens may enjoy. However, the original conception that built the U.S. government was that man is endowed with God-given rights, which are the responsibility of government to protect. “When you carefully study the founding documents, you realize our Founding Fathers … wanted to secure certain precious rights for our citizens,” said Bruce Barilla, an activist champion for freedom. “But today, rather than government securing our rights, it is denying our rights in many ways.”
This has led to the denial of what the Founders understood as a core God-given right: the ability to worship God freely according to the dictates of conscience, “uncoerced by any earthly power.” Instead, the government has determined that people cannot think, talk, or portray anything about God or their faith in public life.
Accordingly, in education, it is believed that public schools must keep the topic of religion off the charts – unless it involves an inclusive pandering that claims the value of all religions equally. “A history teacher in a high school in California was fired for teaching about the Declaration of Independence because it talked about the Creator and Creator-endowed rights,” McDowell told AFA Journal in an interview for the July/August 2017 issue. “You can’t even teach our founding documents in the thinking of some people.”
“The vast majority of educators have an erroneous view of separation of church and state and think schools have to be religion-free zones,” agreed Eric Buehrer, founder of Gateways to Education. His organization works to dispel that myth by pointing to laws that allow educators to pay due respect to the place of Christianity in America’s history and culture, as well as allowing students to continue to observe their own religious convictions. “Neither students nor teachers shed their rights when they enter the classroom, and that includes religious speech and expression,” he said.
Of course, both of these issues go back to the role of religion – in individual life and in the function of the nation. Although Judeo-Christian principles contributed a basis for the nation’s founding, not to mention the religious motivation of many of the early settlers, Christianity is today considered outdated or too constricting to be given serious standing in American life and culture.
Pastor Jim Garlow corrects this view: “I believe that the Bible speaks not merely to personal, family, and church issues, but also to national, community, and governmental issues.” The Bible addresses issues concerning the nation today, particularly regarding government and public policy, even as it proved to be a guidebook for those who designed the system that would best govern the new nation. The Bible was the source from which the Founders identified the rights that the government is meant to protect. And because of the Word of God’s unchanging truths, the rights and freedoms grounded upon it are no different today.