Religion and the United States Constitution & Bill of Rights
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."
Frank Lambert, in the introduction of his masterful book The Founding Fathers and the Place of Religion in America writes:
These two defining moments in American history, 1639 and 1787, frame the central question of this book: How did the Puritan Fathers erecting their "City upon a Hill" transform into the Founding Fathers drawing a distinct line between church and state? The answer lies in the changing meaning of freedom in the concept of freedom of religion. To the Puritans who fled persecution, Massachusetts Bay represented the freedom to practice without interference the one true faith, which they based solely on the Bible, correctly interpreted. Thus religious freedom in the "City upon a Hill" meant freedom from error, with church and state, though separate, working together to support and protect the one true faith. Those who believed differently were free to go elsewhere and sometimes compelled to do so. The Founding Fathers had a radically different conception of religious freedom. Influenced by the Enlightenment, they had great confidence in the individual's ability to understand the world and its most fundamental laws through the exercise of his or her reason. To them, true religion was not something handed down by a church or contained in the Bible but rather was to be found through free rational inquiry. Drawing on radical Whig ideology, a body of thought whose principal concern was expanded liberties, the framers sought to secure their idea of religious freedom by barring any alliance between church and state. (2003,3)
Hence, the U.S. can be considered a nation founded on Christian principles as long as the term Christian is defined broadly and the Enlightenment is understood as a legitimate expression of Christian values. The U. S. Constitution's did not specifically endorse faith in God or a particular denomination or religion precisely because the Founding Fathers realized state governments should be free to decide religious issues without federal compulsion. On the other hand, while the Deists of the infant nation can be considered Christians in the above loose sense (without, for example having to believe in mirascles, or the divinity of Christ -- Thomas Jefferson didn't), it is inappropriate to identify them (or the Unite States of today) with the conservative political and social agenda of the contemporary Religious Right.
Freedom as condition and harbinger of religious diversity
The Founding Fathers of the United States had no way of envisioning the bewildering scope of religious diversity their descendants would encounter at the beginning of the third millennium. As Diana Eck notes in A New Religious America:
When they wrote the sixteen words of the First Amendment, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," they unquestionably did not have Buddhism or the Santeria tradition in mind. But the principles they articulated -- the "nonestablishment" of religion and the "free exercise" of religion-have provided a sturdy rudder through the past two centuries as our religious diversity has expanded. After all, religious freedom is the fountainhead of religious diversity. The two go inextricably together. Step by step, we are beginning to claim and affirm what the framers of the Constitution did not imagine but equipped us to embrace.(7)
The Pluralist Model Of Religion: Key Principles
(adopted on September 9, 2003 during the final session of The Pluralist Model:
A Multi-religious Exploration, Birmingham, England, September 6-9, 2003)
1. Interreligious dialogue and engagement should be the way for religions to relate to one another. A paramount need is for religions to heal antagonisms among themselves.
2. The dialogue should engage the pressing problems of the world today, including war, violence, poverty, environmental devastation, gender injustice, and violation of human rights.
3. Absolute truth claims can easily be exploited to incite religious hatred and violence.
4. The religions of the world affirm ultimate reality/truth which is conceptualized in
5. While ultimate reality/truth is beyond the scope of complete human understanding, it has found expression in diverse ways in the world’s religions.
6. The great world religions with their diverse teachings and practices constitute authentic paths to the supreme good.
7. The world’s religions share many essential values, such as love, compassion, equality, honesty, and the ideal of treating others as one wishes to be treated oneself.
8. All persons have freedom of conscience and the right to choose their own faith.
9. While mutual witnessing promotes mutual respect, proselytizing devalues the faith of the other.
Ingrid Shafer's Crosstimbers article on Ethics, Christianity, and Religious Pluralism (July 2005)
Cecil Lee's Editorial (Crosstimbers July 2005)
Mike Mather's Crosstimbers Evolution article (July 2005) by Mike Mather
Ingrid Shafer's Debating Dr. Dino? original page (March 2005)
ON THE WEB
The Interfaith Alliance
Freedom of Religion
Pluralist Model of Religion
True Liberty Cherishes Difference Diana Eck
Dialogue and Spirituality: Can We Pray Together? S. Wesley Ariarajah
Ingrid H. Shafer, Ph.D.