Bryan Fischer is sticking with his claim that the First Amendment applies only to Christians. He has said before that the First Amendment “was not written to protect the religion of Islam,” that,
Islam has no fundamental First Amendment claims, for the simple reason that it was not written to protect the religion of Islam. Islam is entitled only to the religious liberty we extend to it out of courtesy…From a constitutional point of view, Muslims have no First Amendment right to build mosques in America.
Writing on the American Family Association website, he wishes to make clear that also excluded from First Amendment protections are every other religion outside of Christianity. And yes, that includes Judaism. Jews, not being Christians, are, in Bryan Fischer’s view, not protected by the First Amendment.
The trigger? Those wiley Satanists who have outsmarted not only the Green family, owners of Hobby Lobby whose ultimate plan it is to mandate a 4-year Bible curriculum in America’s schools, but the white patriarchs on the Supreme Court who agreed with Hobby Lobby that corporations can have deeply held religious beliefs. Their weapon? Religious freedom. Rut roh…
Just as the Court ruled that Hobby Lobby cannot be forced to violate its religious principles by being compelled to pay for abortifacients, so the Detroit chapter of The Satanic Temple is arguing that Satan’s disciples cannot be coerced into complying with informed consent laws when they seek abortion services.
Since their religion argues for absolute, unrestrained, no-holds barred freedom of human will, they contend that Satanists cannot be forced to read literature that explains fetal development and abortion risks.
Now if the word “religion” in the First Amendment was intended by the Founders to refer to any belief system in a supernatural power, then the Satanists are absolutely right. They have just as much a First Amendment claim as anybody else.
But if by the word “religion” the Founders meant Christianity, then they don’t. And Muslims don’t either.
Joseph Story, the longest serving associate justice of the Supreme Court and author of the first definitive history of the Constitution, wrote this about the First Amendment (emphasis mine):
“The real object of the amendment was, not to countenance, much less to advance Mahometanism, or Judaism, or infidelity, by prostrating Christianity; but to exclude all rivalry among Christian sects, and to prevent any national ecclesiastical establishment…”
It’s hard to get much clearer than that. The word “countenance” means “to accept, support, or approve of (something), to extend approval or toleration to.” So the purpose of the First Amendment was most decidedly NOT to “approve, support, (or) accept” any “religion” other than Christianity, including Islam and Satanism.
Keep in mind now, as we proceed, that in his corner Fischer claims Joseph Story, though he fails to relate the rest of what Story said. When you read it, you will see why Fischer would just as soon ignore the rest of Story’s words, since they not only stress a history Fischer would rather ignore, but caution against what the very goals of Fischer and the Religious Right today: namely to establish a theocracy:
Article VI, paragraph 3 of the U.S. Constitution declares, that ‘no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.’ This clause is not introduced merely for the purpose of satisfying the scruples of many persons, who feel an invincible repugnance to any religious test, or affirmation. It had a higher objective: to cut off for ever every pretence [sic] of any alliance between church and state in the national government.
The real object of the First Amendment was, not to countenance, much less to advance Mahometanism, or Judaism, or infidelity, by prostrating Christianity; but to exclude all rivalry among Christian sects, and to prevent any national ecclesiastical establishment, which should give to an hierarchy the exclusive patronage of the national government. It thus cut off the means of religious persecution, (the vice and pest of former ages,) and of the subversion of the rights of conscience in matters of religion, which had been trampled upon almost from the days of the Apostles to the present age. The history of the parent country had afforded the most solemn warnings and melancholy instructions on this head; and even New England, the land of the persecuted puritans, as well as other colonies, where the Church of England had maintained its superiority, would furnish out a chapter, as full of the darkest bigotry and intolerance, as any, which should be found to disgrace the pages of foreign annals. Apostacy, heresy, and nonconformity had been standard crimes for public appeals, to kindle the flames of persecution, and apologize for the most atrocious triumphs over innocence and virtue.
Thus, the whole power over the subject of religion is left exclusively to the state government, to be acted upon according to their own sense of justice, and the state constitutions; and the Catholic and the Protestant, the Calvinist and the Arminian, the Jew and the Infidel, may sit down at the common table of the national councils, without any inquisition into their faith, or mode of worship.
For the record, the First Amendment says,
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.
John Ragosta (Religious Freedom, 2013:113) asks “what does the short amendment mean?” and points to the days before the Supreme Court became a subsidiary of the Republican Party, for an answer:
In 1879, Chief Justice Morrison Waite, writing on behalf of a unanimous court in Reynolds v. United States, turned to Jefferson’s language from the Statute’s preamble [the Virginia Statute for Establishing Religious Freedom] to define the religious freedom protected by the First Amendment: “to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude powers into the field of opinions and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles on supposition of their ill-tendency, is a dangerous fallacy which at once destroys all religious liberty,” what Waite referred to as “the true distinction between what properly belongs to the church and what to the State.” Wait went on to note that Jefferson’s 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptists identifying a constitutional “wall of separation” between church and state,” [c]oming…from an acknowledged leader of the advocates of the measure [the First Amendment],” deserved to “be accepted almost as an authoritative declaration.” Since then, the majority of the Supreme Court has been clear that the “Virginia Experience,” including Jefferson’s Statute, Madison’s Memorial & Remonstrance, and the Letter to the Danbury Baptists, expresses the vision and wisdom at the heart of the First Amendment’s protection of religious liberty. Historians have broadly agreed. Based upon the history enunciated in Reynolds and later in Everson v. Board of Education (1947), Jefferson’s Statute has taken center stage in our understanding of the religion clauses of the First Amendment.
It is Fischer’s claim that he has Thomas Jefferson on his side, writing that.
As Jefferson put it in his second inaugural address, he had left religious exercises “under the direction and discipline of State or Church authorities,” right where the Constitution placed them.
Fischer likes to misunderstand his cherry-picked quotes. As we know, Jefferson said quite a bit about religious freedom and none of it agrees with Fischer. As well as Jefferson’s Virginia Statute, we have Madison’s Memorial & Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments (1785) arguing against Fischer’s assertion (and as you can see and as historians will tell you, the two men were of like mind when it came to religious freedom).
It should also be noted to that Jefferson said in his autobiography about his own preamble:
Where the preamble declares, that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed by inserting “Jesus Christ,” so that it would read “A departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion;” the insertion was rejected by the great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mohammedan, the Hindoo and Infidel of every denomination.
Of course, Thomas Jefferson also said,
But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.
And then there is George Washington’s letter to the Jewish community of Newport, Rhode Island in 1790:
The Citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for giving to Mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy: a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection, should demean themselves as good citizens.
“All possess alike…” just like the Constitution says. Everybody. Not just protestants, but Jews too – and Fischer’s hated Muslims. There is no justification at all for Fischer’s claim that Muslims are “parasites who must convert or die.”
Though they won’t bring it up themselves, for obvious reasons, conservatives are also forced to like to downplay or argue away the significance of the Treaty of Tripoli (1797), which states in unequivocal terms that “the Government of he United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion, – as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Musselmen [Muslims].”
The important point here is that this treaty was signed by the president, John Adams, and ratified by Congress without a single complaint being uttered.
It would seem, upon further examination, that Fischer has very little supporting his argument that the First Amendment was intended solely for Christians.
Image from theurbanpolitico.com
Hrafnkell Haraldsson, a social liberal with leanings toward centrist politics has degrees in history and philosophy. His interests include, besides history and philosophy, human rights issues, freedom of choice, religion, and the precarious dichotomy of freedom of speech and intolerance. He brings a slightly different perspective to his writing, being that he is neither a follower of an Abrahamic faith nor an atheist but a polytheist, a modern-day Heathen who follows the customs and traditions of his Norse ancestors. He maintains his own blog, A Heathen’s Day, which deals with Heathen and Pagan matters, and Mos Maiorum Foundation www.mosmaiorum.org, dedicated to ethnic religion. He has also contributed to NewsJunkiePost, GodsOwnParty and Pagan+Politics.