By Rick Hennessy
“…Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof,” – Leviticus 25:10.
This verse was the premise upon which our Founding Fathers based the freedom and liberty that was to be for all Americans. Fortunately, those who built this constitutional republic clearly identified its pillars and supports. As George Washington succinctly stated:
“Of all the dispositions and habits, which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports.”
This is why in the United States Constitution reads:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
The free exercise clause withdraws from legislative power, state and federal, the exertion of any restraint on the free exercise of religion. Its purpose is to secure religious liberty in the individual by prohibiting any invasions there by civil authority.
James Madison, fourth president of the United States and father of the United States Constitution, was born in Virginia when the only religion allowed by the state was the Anglican Church. There was very little tolerance for other religions, such as the Baptists whose pastors were run out of town or thrown in jail! These were the conditions under which James Madison was raised. As faithful members of the Anglican Church, his family closely adhered to the teachings from the pulpit. One of the teachings of the Anglican Church was that people afflicted with epilepsy were deemed to be “children of Satan.”
James Madison suffered with attacks of epilepsy his entire life and felt very strongly that the teachings of the Anglican Church were just plain wrong. Since Virginia only accepted the Anglican Church, Madison had nowhere to turn for his spiritual needs. He felt very strongly that the government had no business telling its citizens what churches they could or could not attend or what belief system they had to follow. As author of the Constitution do you think Madison’s experiences with epilepsy and the Anglican Church affect his writings with regard to the free exercise clause? You bet it did! Was it the sole reason? Probably not, but it clearly played a significant role in his thinking.
An Action To Take: Talk with a church leader about the importance of giving biblical direction regarding the spiritual roots of our nation with those in the congregation – including youth and children.