OUR NEW SUNDAY THOUGHTS PAGE.
Julio Gonzalez, M.D., J.D.
Welcome to our new "Sunday Thoughts" Page.
The overarching goals for The Federalist Pages have been to explore our Constitution, to review our nation's constitutional history, and to visit the events of today in light of the original intent and interpretation of the Constitution of the United States. The chief underpinning of these concepts is our First Amendment right to freedom of religion. At The Federalist Pages, we believe that the framework the Framers constructed for us in Philadelphia was based on religious principles and presumptions. In the "Sunday Thoughts" page of The Federalist Pages, we explore these foundations, their meaning, and their implications to our society if they were being applied in a manner consistent with the Framers' intent.
On our "Sunday Thoughts" segment, we will release weekly articles detailing concepts dealing with our religious freedom. What would our society look like in light of a more robust and open freedom to worship? Would it truly be more oppressive, or would it actually be more liberating? Is open worship, and worship during official functions an impediment or a benefit to a free and democratic society? And what did the Framers believe was the correct answer?
We begin our exploration with a look into the thoughts of the Framers and leaders of the era regarding religious freedom and worship in their new nation. Many of us know about Thomas Jefferson's letter to the leaders of the Danbury Baptist Association where he described the now infamous wall of separation between church and state, and we will certainly explore that. However, to really get to the essence of what the Founders and Framers were considering for the new nation with regards to the freedom to worship, we have to go back further. There are fascinating expressions of the meaning and make-up of religious freedom leading back to the earliest days of our colonial times, but perhaps the best place to start is with the thoughts of men like John Adams, John Marshall, and George Mason. Men who were involved in the nation's creation and actually led the process forward.
Perhaps the clearest indication of the Framers' vision for our nation's foundation as it relates to religious worship comes from the experiences of George Mason. During the run-up to the Revolutionary War, Virginia took steps to maintain communications and coordinate actions with its surrounding colonies against England. In 1774, Virginia engaged in the first of many Conventions manned by delegates from its various counties. With the reality of an impending secession from the Crown, Virginia assembled its Fifth Convention on May 6, 1776. This was the assembly that would declare Virginia's independence from England and replace the British flag with the colonial colors. Faced with the reality of independent rule, the Convention embarked on the creation of two key documents. The first was a constitution, which it ratified on June 29, 1776, and the second, the Virginia Bill of Rights, was adopted on June 12, 1776. It is this latter document that holds some of the key building blocks to America's eventual position on religious liberties.
concept confirms the manner in which members of society are to discharge that duty, namely through individual reason and conviction. That religious duty is an innately personal one, which is not imposed by force or violence, but by the omnipotent Creator. From this assertion springs the third concept: the state cannot punish or restrain a person based on religious beliefs except when such beliefs disturb peace, happiness, or safety.
Finally, there is the absolute requirement that all citizens of Virginia practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity. This concept of Christianity guiding the actions of the people is of seminal importance, and not merely because Christianity was the prevailing religion of the day. The reason Christianity, specifically, mustbe the principal religious force within a free society is because of the unique, central message that Christianity brought to the Jewish faith: the concept of loving service to one's neighbor stated, amongst other places, in the Gospel according to Mark:
"You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength. . . . You must love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these. . . To love Him with all your heart, with all your understanding and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself, this is far more important than any burnt offering or sacrifice." (Mk. 12:30-33) This concept of love and its inextricable ties to religious service is unique to Christianity. With the assertion that man's purpose includes loving those around him comes the responsibility of service to others. In a free society, unencumbered by external restraints, the selfish pursuit of a man's interest will push him inexorably toward amassing more possession and more power. Naturally, those with the greatest abilities will eventually tower over those with lesser ones and squander them with their overwhelming might.
A pure republic respecting the unencumbered motivations and accomplishments of its citizens rightfully would allow these proclivities to proceed unchecked, unless its people were restricted by the Christian edict of loving others as they would love themselves. The people would then possess an inherent code of conduct not needing to be laid down by the Republic.
It is through this prism of Christian forbearance that the actions and interventions of the Founders and the Framers need to be viewed. These men were working on the assumption that their society and social customs were inherently Christian in nature. Whether they advocated for religious freedom, rights of conscience, or separation of church and state, their testimonies and arguments were based on the precept that American society and the American people were inherently Christian and acted under the moral presumptions afforded by Christianity. This fundamental assumption regarding the color of American society at the time of its founding is the reason George Mason declared it the "mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity to each other," in Section 16 of the Virginia Bill of Rights.
It is this view, as expressed by George Mason in the Virginia Bill of Rights that most closely reflects not only the intent the Framers had for their new nation, but also for where we ought to be today with regards to our own religious freedoms and public worship.
In our next installment, we will explore James Madison's view and, eventually, Thomas Jefferson's, and discover why theirs, although eventually adopted by the twentieth century, progressive Supreme Court, conflicts with the original vision for our nation.
Dr. Julio Gonzalez is an orthopaedic surgeon and lawyer living in Venice, Florida. He is the author of The Federalist Pages and serves in the Florida House of Representatives. He can be reached through www.thefederalistpages.com to arrange a lecture or book signing.