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.
Amendment addresses religion. The frame
of reference of the Founding Fathers was Europe, and more specifically,
England. In Europe, a movement to reform
the Church began in 1517, influenced by Martin Luther’s critiques of the Roman
Catholic Church. The movement led to the
Protestant Reformation. After the Pope denied the King of England the
permission to divorce his wife, the English king created the Church of England,
and established himself as head of the church, so that he may grant to himself
the allowance to seek a divorce. In
England the Church of England greatly influenced the centralized governmental
system, and the politicians greatly influenced The Church. There was no separation between powers of the
king and the church, a problem that revealed itself with the 1559 Act of Uniformity. According to the Act of Uniformity, it was
illegal to not attend Church of England services. A fine was imposed for each missed Sunday and
holy day. Penalties also existed if one
decided to have church services not approved by the government, which included
arrest, and larger fines. The problem,
the Founding Fathers reasoned, was not faith in God, but the establishment of a
State Church. Therefore, to protect the
governmental system from the influence of religion, while also protecting the
various religious sects from a government that may give preferential treatment
to an established religion, the Founders determined that the federal government
must not establish a state religion (Establishment Clause).
clause, however, was clearly designed to protect the various religious exercises
by Americans from the government by instructing government to not prohibit the
free exercise of religion.
big deal with those early Americans. The
importance of religious freedom during that time period is common knowledge. Even the textbooks in today’s public school
system reveals the Pilgrims first came to the New World in search of religious
secular forces in our society have worked to undermine the first clause of the
1st Amendment. Americans have been
conditioned to believe in a concept known as the Separation of Church and
State. The concept has determined
the church is to have no influence, no matter how subtle, on government for any
reason. Therefore, reason the
secularists who support the modern concept of the separation of church and
state, any mention of God in the same breath with the federal government is in
direct violation of the 1st Amendment.
the concept of Separation of Church and State in today’s society, we must go
back and discover the origination of the idea.
The truth demands we recognize the language used in the writings of the
Founders, as well as grasp the history of the colonies – including a series of
letters between the federal government and the Danbury Baptists of Connecticut,
culminating in the letters to Thomas Jefferson after he became President of the
United States after the Election of 1800.
as a collection of like-minded religious folk who wanted freedom for their
religion (not necessarily freedom of all religions). In Jamestown, in 1610, Dales Law mandated the
Jamestown colonists to attend Anglican worship.
The law went so far as to have provisions against criticism of the
church. Violation of Dales Law could
even lead to death. The Puritan Colonies
to the north had similar laws, even setting up their governments in accordance
with Puritan Law. Connecticut was one of
those Puritan Colonies, and in 1639 the colony enacted “The Fundamental
Orders of Connecticut.” The law set
Connecticut up as a theocracy,
disallowing non-Puritans from holding office.
The government was the church, and the church was the government.
preference was not limited to Connecticut.
All of the States enforced established religions, except Pennsylvania
and Rhode Island.
largely a Quaker dominated State, William Penn believed that religion should be
free from state control, so Pennsylvania did not persecute non-Quakers. However, in Pennsylvania, in order to hold
office, you still had to be a Christian.
1636 as a colony, was based on the principle of true religious liberty, and
took in folks who were trying to escape the religious persecution of the other
dominated landscape included a group of Baptists in Danbury, Connecticut who
were tired of being treated like second class citizens.
Virginia Act For Establishing Religious Freedom in Virginia, and with James
Madison’s assistance, finally got it enacted into law in 1786. After many letters to President Adams that
resulted in no assistance, the Danbury Baptists were excited about Jefferson
winning the presidential election in 1800.
Finally, they would have someone in office who would help them in their fight
for religious freedoms in Connecticut.
to Jefferson to congratulate him for his win, and to appeal to him for
help. Thomas Jefferson responded with a letter
that carries the line, “a wall of separation between church and
state,” which has become the source from which the infamous concept of
Separation of Church and State was eventually derived.
that Americans be free to worship as they wished, without being compelled by
government through an established religion.
The key, however, is that they not only did not want the federal
government compelling a person through laws regarding religion, but the
government shall not “prohibit the free exercise thereof.”
indicated in his letter to the Danbury Baptists, and his other writings, was
against the government establishing a “State Church.” However, he also believed that men should be
free to exercise their religion as they deem fit, and not be forced to follow a
government mandate that may prohibit religion.
concerned over local religious freedoms, but Jefferson was clear, the federal
government could not mandate anything in regards to religion. It is a State issue, and the Danbury Baptists
needed to address the issue themselves through their State government. Jefferson’s reference to a wall of separation
was an explanation that the federal government cannot prohibit the free exercise
of religion for any reason, including on public grounds, but if a State was to
prohibit the free exercise of religion, or establish a state church, it was an
issue that must be resolved at the State level.
the Bill of Rights the freedom of speech, and of the press, was specifically
designed to protect political speech, though other speech is protected by this
clause as well. The Founding Fathers
believed that freedom hinged on the freedoms of political speech and the
press. Benjamin Franklin wrote in the
Pennsylvania Gazette, April 8, 1736, regarding the American doctrine behind
freedom of speech and of the press:
of speech is a principal pillar of a free government; when this support is
taken away, the constitution of a free society is dissolved, and tyranny is
erected on its ruins. Republics and limited monarchies derive their strength
and vigor from a popular examination into the action of the magistrates.”
“In every State, probably, in the Union, the press has exerted a freedom in
canvassing the merits and measures of public men of every description which has
not been confined to the strict limits of the common law.”
Assemble, and to Petition the Government for a Redress of Grievances
assemble means that citizens may peacefully parade and gather, and demonstrate
support or opposition of public policy.
This part of the 1st Amendment is closely tied to Freedom of Speech,
guaranteeing one’s ability to express one’s views by freedom of speech and the
right to peaceably assemble.
right to peaceably assemble was not a new concept during the Constitutional
Convention. Before the Bill of Rights,
the Declaration and Resolves of the First Continental Congress declared on
October 14, 1774:
inhabitants of the English colonies in North-America, by the immutable laws of
nature, the principals of the English constitution, and the several charters or
compacts, have the following rights: They have a right peaceably to assemble,
consider their grievances, and petition the king: and that all prosecutions,
prohibitory proclamations, and commitments for the same are illegal.
declaration of rights guaranteed peaceable assembly. Pennsylvania was the first State to recognize
assemble was considered less important than the right to petition. Now, many historians
consider the two to be equally important, and to actually complement each
that the right to assemble, and petition the government for a redress of
grievances, were important keys to protecting States’ Rights, and the rights of
the people, from the federal government.
The need to assemble, to come together and share common beliefs and act
upon those beliefs, is what began the drive for independence, and ultimately
what led to the American Revolution. The
right to assemble and petition the government for a redress of grievances, the
Founding Fathers believed, was one of the primary tools available to the
citizens in their drive to stop tyrannies before they could take hold.
opportunity for all citizens to participate in America’s political life and in
the electoral process. A recent example
of this inalienable right in action is the Tea Party Movement. The Tea Party rallies are peaceful
assemblies. These rallies are protected
by the Constitution when they are for a lawful purpose, are conducted in an
orderly manner, and publicize some type of grievance. Many groups and organizations use assembly as
a way to show support for an idea, or dispute, as characterized by the Tea
of Uniformity – In Britain it was illegal not to attend Church of
England services, with a fine imposed for each missed Sunday and holy day. Penalties for having unofficial services
included arrest and larger fines.
Reformation – Movement of the Church Reform begun in 1517 that
was influenced by Martin Luther’s critiques of the Roman Catholic Church. The movement led to the formation of the
Protestant Christian groups.
of Church and State – Distance in the relationship between organized
religion and the nation state.
of government in which a state is as governed by religion, or by clergy who
believes they are under immediate divine guidance.
today’s definition of the separation between church and state differ from the
attitude towards religion by the Founding Fathers?
Danbury Baptists appeal to Thomas Jefferson for help?
think that the Founding Fathers believed that our freedoms hinged on the
freedoms of political speech and the press?
examples of the people peaceably assembling in protest?
Baptist Association’s letter to Thomas Jefferson, October 7,
Final Letter to the Danbury Baptists, January 1, 1802:
Andrews, A Guide for Learning and
Teaching The Declaration of
Texts Using Classical Learning Methods of the Founders; San
Marcos: The Center for Teaching the Constitution (2010).
Kurland and Ralph Lerner, The Founder’s
Declaration and Resolves of the First Continental Congress declared
History dot org: http://www.ushistory.org/Declaration/related/decres.htm
Jefferson, The Virginia Act For Establishing Religious Freedom,