The Christmas season is one of my favorite times of the year. As Christians celebrate the birth of the Christ Child, the month of December punctuates the role of religion in our free society. It was no accident that our founders enshrined the right to freedom of religion in the First Amendment.[pullquote]It was no accident that our founders enshrined the right to freedom of religion in the First Amendment.[/pullquote]
As an outside observer of early American life, French historian Alexis de Tocqueville said in his book Democracy in America: “Religion, which never intervenes directly in the government of American society, should therefore be considered as the most important of their political institutions, for although it did not give them the taste for liberty, it singularly facilitates their use thereof.”
The Founding Fathers knew that sincerely held religious beliefs often shape people’s morality and that a people must be virtuous and moral in order to maintain a free society; therefore, they chose to protect the free exercise of religion.
John Adams held that religion not only facilitates our freedoms, it is a prerequisite to lasting freedom:
Statesmen, my dear Sir, may plan and speculate for Liberty, but it is Religion and Morality alone, which can establish the Principles upon which Freedom can securely stand. The only foundation of a free Constitution is pure Virtue, and if this cannot be inspired into our People in a greater Measure than they have it now, They may change their Rulers and the forms of Government, but they will not obtain a lasting Liberty. They will only exchange Tyrants and Tyrannies. (From a letter to Zabdiel Adams)
On the whole, religion teaches us to be our better selves, to love our neighbors and to seek for the greater good. When we espouse these virtues, we as a people are more moral, which in turn creates an environment in which freedom can thrive. Remove religion entirely from the equation and the state often becomes the primary teacher of morality and – as history shows – morality declines and freedoms erode.
So this holiday season, among all the blessings for which we are grateful, may we not forget to count religious freedom. It is because of that freedom – not in spite of it – that we are truly free.
From all of us at Sutherland Institute, Merry Christmas!
Editor’s note: In observance of the holidays, we won’t be posting next week but will be back after the New Year.