Diocese of Charleston’s Office of Family Life sponsored an essay contest connected with the Fortnight for Freedom. Here is the winning essay.
Religious Freedom: Our First Amendment Right
By Caroline Daly
Thomas Jefferson coined the phrase “separation of church and state” in a letter to his friend concerning the first amendment to the Constitution. This phrase has since been passed down through the generations and manipulated to fit the needs of society. Few people today realize that the purpose of the separation of church and state was to protect religion, not government. Still, “separation of church and state” has become a sort of rallying cry to ensure that the morals of religion do not find their way into the mechanics of politics. Thus society has come to view religion as bothersome and religious freedom as insignificant, causing two of America’s founding principles to lose their meanings as defined by the constitution.
American cultural trends are ephemeral. In a nation where viral videos and social media reign, everything from fashion and celebrity to reform movements and social change is fluctuating. The United States is an ocean with an ever-encroaching tide. Religion, however, is a boulder, strong and sturdy, that reaches from the depths of the ocean to the heights of the clouds. It is no wonder then that religion is viewed as an obstacle by society. Its morals and standards create structure, constancy, and tradition that juxtapose the chaos, fickleness, and modernity of society. Society constantly demands that religion change. Its waves beat against the stone boulder insistently. If religion says God created everyone, society says God created gay love. If religion says God is the ultimate judge, society says no one can rightly judge another. The precepts of religion are constantly manipulated and challenged to conform to the impulses of this world.
Because of the relationship between society and religion, freedom of religion is often constrained. Too often, individuals are denied their constitutional right because of the conflict between religion and popular culture. The morality of religion requires action from its adherents to stand up against society’s whims. It requires people to cling to the boulder of their faith amidst the relentless waves of social evolution. When those with strong moral conviction take a stand against gay marriage, abortion, or contraceptives, they are often ridiculed by society. “Personal rights” have trump religious rights in society’s eyes. For example, the Affordable Care Act requires businesses to supply contraceptives to their female workers despite their religious convictions. In this case, the societal “right” to birth control supersedes the legal right to practice religion.
Culture has transformed religion and religious freedom from sacred rights to imposing annoyances. America has lost touch with her origins; she has forgotten that religious freedom is a constitutional right upon which the nation was built. Society sees religion’s refusal to conform as an injustice while in reality it is an act of valor. The Constitution reflects the sanctity religion once had in America through its efforts to extend religious freedom to all its citizens. This is where the true meaning of religion is found in the nation, not in the varying viewpoints of each generation but in the very document that guides our nation.
Religion is often considered antiquated in today’s culture, and as a result, religious freedom has become almost meaningless. These views, however, are the opposite of those upon which the country was framed. Generation after generation has upheld the ideals written in the Constitution. But the future of America’s freedom is in jeopardy. It is up to my generation to safeguard the rights that those before us have fought so hard to protect. Only when America realizes the importance of her constitutional rights and vows to protect them will religion once again be regarded sacred.