The 1st Amendment of the Bill of Rights to the Constitution of the United States clearly states: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof …” This is referred to as the Separation of Church from State and Freedom of Religion.
Interestingly the separation of church from state is the very first Right of all rights listed in the Bill of Rights and is the only right in the 1st Amendment to be important enough to have two parts: 1) Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion and 2) prohibiting the free exercise thereof. This is significant.
It is clear that the founding fathers highly valued their religious freedom but were far too aware of how religion could be used to deny others equal rights to practice their beliefs. This was so important to them that it was the very first idea expressed in the Bill of Rights. This is the reason the Pilgrims and other religious groups, persecuted by the laws of the Church of England, left England to come to America where there was far more religious tolerance. The founding fathers wanted to guarantee that this new nation would not make the same mistakes that existed in England.
This is the very essence of all other freedoms. Religion is the social fabric which hold most societies together. To impose one specific religious value upon others who believe differently is to deny them their social and religious heritage. This is so fundamental to our government and what makes freedom reign over an oligarchy. In essence the Bill of Rights embraces the diversity of people from all religions and all culture.
Unfortunately some fundamentalist Christian groups still do not believe in the separation of church from state as defined in the 1st Amendment. They believe, as did King George III, that the laws of God, as they believe, take precedence over the laws of man. They believe in a very narrow interpretation of the the Christian doctrine of free will. King George III, the head of the Church of England in the 18th Century, considered himself God’s representative thus he gave himself the authority to dictate moral values in the laws of Great Britain. I fail to see the difference between King George III and certain religious group today who believe they represent the will of God and thus have the moral authority of God to carry out his will by trying to legally impose religious values upon others through legislation.
This is so contrary to the 1st Amendment’s separation of Church from State. Such issues as anti same-sex marriage, antiabortion, anti assisted suicide, evolution and prayer in public schools, and racial inequalities have all had their basis in religious legislation, many of which have been more recently overturned as violations of 1st Amendment rights. Religious groups are now disingenuously figuring ways around the law. For example in Texas abortions can no longer be band since a fetus is not considered a person. So they have implemented a tricky workaround law which requires only abortion clinics to be fully equipped to handle medical emergencies in case there are complication. Other medical clinics do not have such requirements so this law is only targeting abortion clinics. Thus all but a handful of abortion clinics located in hospitals have been forced to close.
Some religious values are so ingrained into our culture that they are no longer considered religious issues such as the marriage between two individuals. Polygamy is still illegal everywhere but is practiced underground in a few places in Utah. It is not uncommon that men have sex and children by different women but they can only be legally married to one, a bit hypocritical. Prostitution is another widely practiced moral issue which is illegal in most states but in Nevada where it has been legalized and regulated to reduce sexual transmitted diseases and collect taxes. Gambling is another that is still illegal in most states but is allowed on Indian reservations and a few states. In many Southern bible belt areas alcohol is prohibited or greatly restricted.
So laws still exist based upon religious/moral values in violation of the separation of church from state denying certain citizens their free rights to practice their beliefs or non-belief. These morality laws have little to do with maintaining peace and order in society yet violators risk heavy fines or imprisonment thus loosing all their freedoms.
Laws and legislation are intended to maintain peace and order and the Constitution and Bill of Rights assures that certain specified inalienable rights are guaranteed to all. The fairness of our Constitution is why our democracy is the longest continuous surviving major such government in the world today in spite of the abuses still in existence. Yet we still struggle with the 1st Amendment separation of church from state.