29 January, LI A.S.
I am getting gradually more on top of things with this blog, I swear. 🙂
Happy National Religous Freedom Day!
On January 16th, 1786, the Virginia General Assembly adopted Thomas Jefferson’s landmark Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. This law, which Jefferson originally drafted back in 1777, disestablished the Church of England in the state of Virginia and guaranteed the freedom of religion which Jefferson and the other Founding Fathers professed to be a natural right of every individual. This bold law broke with the political norms of nearly every empire, kingdom, and principality of the Old World: our new Republic would have no more state religion, no more government sponsorship of proselytizing, no more requirements of one or another religious affiliation in order to hold public office, and overall, freedom of conscience and freedom of worship for everyone. Not just Protestants. Not just Christians. Everyone, according to this law, would be protected as such:
…no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of Religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge or affect their civil capacities…
Jefferson’s legislation would go on to influence the United States Constitution of 1787, specifically its First Amendment:
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.
State and federal adherence to the right of religious freedom have proven imperfect at times and remain so today. But the ideals enshrined in the Statute and the First Amendment live on, woven inseparably into the ever-vital American Experiment. If a man lacks the fundamental freedom to choose and believe whatever religious worldview suits him, (including an unreligious worldview,) what kind of freedom does he conceivably have? Considering Mankind’s long and bloody history of holy wars, inquisitions, witch hunts, and pogroms of every kind, Jefferson’s’ “Wall of Separation” between the State and any church is an unusual and precious concept worth both celebrating and soberly protecting.
I can’t think of a more fitting day to celebrate mine and my country’s religious liberty than January 16th. A lot of folks (including the last four U.S. Presidents,) seem to agree with me, and so that date is proclaimed each year as National Religious Freedom Day. And hey, check it out, the Church of Satan has a great page on the subject as well:
I highly recommend checking out that page to see what many talented and articulate Satanists have to say on the topic. One little piece I’d like to highlight is the contribution made by the Satanic Player’s Society. We put together readings of a few quotations from famous authors on the topic. Mine is by Mark Twain. 🙂
There are still some in America (*cough cough*) who insist that the American nation was founded on the basis of the Christian religion, rather than on secular ideas of natural rights to life, liberty, and property. While the evidence against this myth abounds in the writings of many Founding Fathers, my favorite collective American rejection of Christian political dominance is the 1796 Treaty of Tripoli. This treaty connects to the fascinating and largely forgotten history of the young United States’ conflict with the piratical Barbary States of North Africa, the best part of that story being when Presidents Thomas Jefferson and James Madison dispatched the US Navy and Marines to kick the pirates’ asses and finally put a stop to their bullshit. (Which is where the Marine’s Hymn gets “To the shores of Tripoli,” as well as where Marine officers get the Mameluke sword.)
Anyway, before the Barbary Wars, the United States concluded the 1796 Treaty of Tripoli in an (ultimately vain) attempt to keep the peace with the Ottoman vassal state of Tripolitania. The part of the Treaty most indicative of our country’s political leadership’s true views on religious freedom is Article 11, which reads:
Art. 11. As the Government of the 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 Mussulmen (Muslims); and as the said States never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan (Mohammedan) nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.
“NOT. In any sense, founded on the Christian religion.” Whatever other beef our country had with the terrorist states of North Africa, any future conflict hadn’t a thing to do with the religious beliefs of any party involved, but rather hostile actions towards our citizens or interests. The Treaty of Tripoli was signed by President John Adams, a key member of the Founding generation, and was ratified by 100% of the twenty-three Senators (out of a total Senate of thirty-two) present on June 7th, 1797. The political movement towards secularism is not some new invention that sprung from California college campuses in the liberal spirit of the 1960’s. It’s a key component of America’s foundation. Even if the vast majority of Americans were Christian, the Founders clearly intended for a secular state which would leave questions of religion to individuals and their freely-chosen churches. That’s our heritage as Americans, whether we’re respectively Christian, Buddhist, atheist, or Pastafarian.
In 2017, I think commemoration and celebration of this day and the achievement it represents is more important than ever. America has been at war with Islamic Jihadists for a decade and a half, while the threat of political Christian interference in Americans’ personal lives looms greater than it did a year ago. The past two centuries have seen great progress in fulfilling the American ideal of complete individual religious liberty and separation of church and state. Maintaining that progress requires vigilance, hard work, and appreciation of what our Forefathers fought for and achieved. May the ideas and reality of self-determination continue to spread across human civilization!
And I really do want to emphasize the hard, important work that lawyers and other activists from organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union have done for nearly a century, and continue to this day. Whether they’re stopping illegal discrimination, or arguing in the court system to overturn unconstituional laws which stood in the way of everything from scientific progress to the individual liberty of gay Americans, ACLU volunteers take the action needed to keep religious freedom alive. While members of the US Armed Forces get a great deal of credit (and rightfully so!) for protecting Americans from foreign threats of tyranny, I think it’s just as important to give attention to those civilians, such as ACLU volunteers, who fight the good fight securing our domestic Wall of Separation.
Furthermore, although the Church of Satan has a strict policy on politics, it’s well worth noting the Church’s goals set forth by High Priest Anton Szandor LaVey in “Pentagonal Revisionism”, specifically Points Two and Three. Numerous members contribute to those aims through their varied private and public endeavors.