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St. James Plaindealer - St. James, MN
  • Congress shall make no law

  • If you can't quite place where those words come from, they are the first five words of the First Amendment of The Bill of Rights of the Constitution of the United States.
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  • If you can't quite place where those words come from, they are the first five words of the First Amendment of The Bill of Rights of the Constitution of the United States.
    They've been enshrined in our Constitution for more than 220 years as a bulwark, perhaps to most important bulwark to our liberty. They protect five of our essential freedoms. Do you know them?
    I've been thinking about these five words of the First lately because of what has been happening in Egypt. How do I segue from our First Amendment to Egypt?
    It's because of the words that come after 'Congress shall make no law.....respecting an establishment of religion'. It is the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
    The near civil war in Egypt is occurring partly because Egypt and many countries are unable to understand a fundamental way to protect religious liberty is to prohibit the government from imposing the religious views of one group onto other groups.
    Thomas Jefferson got to the core of the issue for us in 1802, when he clarified that the Establishment Clause meant there was a separation of church and state.
    This is an important and brilliant view of how to protect liberty. It is also understandable that Egypt hasn't gone through a painful struggle to get to a state where the government can protect religious liberty.
    Having endured decades of dictatorship, the Arab spring gave the Egyptian people the right to vote and they voted into power an Islamist party known as the Muslim Brotherhood. Having won, the Muslim Brotherhood had a winner take all view of politics and to a large extent began imposing it's religious views on all of the people.
    There was no prohibition in Egypt preventing an establishment of religion or separating church and state. This is partly why millions of Egyptians took to the streets several months ago, encouraged the military to overthrow President Mohamed Morsi and his party, which the military did. That has brought Egypt to this violent present day.
    As we watch what Egyptians are experiencing right now, we need to remember that our religious liberty did not just magically arise in 1791. The First Amendment came about after nearly three centuries of violent repression of religious liberty in western Europe and the American colonies.
    The Reformation in the first decades of the 1500s was a spark for centuries of Christian bloodletting between the religious views of one state or group and another. Whoever came to power repressed to the point of murder people who held other religious views.
    Many of the people who came to the American colonies in the two centuries before the adoption of the Bill of Rights came to practice their religion free from repression by authority. Even in the Colonies there were instances of repression of religious freedom.
    Page 2 of 2 - It is only through those centuries of tumult over the struggle for religious liberty that we came to adopt the First Amendment.
    Americans came to understand the best way to protect their religious freedom was to try and not repress the religious freedoms of others.
    It took a long time for our society to work the issue of religious liberty out. Egypt is just beginning.
    Oh, and the five freedoms of the First - religion, speech, press, assembly, petition.
    I had an eighth grade English teacher require me to memorize the First Amendment: "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."
    It's been something I've been able to repeat ever since.
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