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Updated: 8 Jun., 2016
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Updated: 14 Oct., 2017
US Supreme Court Definition.
US Supreme Court
Definition of religion condensed from the Law Encyclopedia:
“To determine whether an action of the federal or state government infringes upon a person's right to freedom of religion, the court must decide what qualifies as religion or religious activities for purposes of the First Amendment. The Supreme Court has interpreted religion to mean a sincere and meaningful belief that occupies in the life of its possessor a place parallel to the place held by God in the lives of other persons. The religion or religious concept need not include belief in the existence of God or a supreme being to be within the scope of the First Amendment……....the Supreme Court must look to the sincerity of a person's beliefs to help decide if those beliefs constitute a religion that deserves constitutional protection. ………In addition, a belief does not need to be stated in traditional terms to fall within First Amendment protection. …..… The revolutionary philosophy encompassed the principle that the interests of society are best served if individuals are free to form their own opinions and beliefs…..…The Supreme Court has deliberately avoided establishing an exact or a narrow definition of religion because freedom of religion is a dynamic guarantee that was written in a manner to ensure flexibility and responsiveness to the passage of time and the development of the United States"
(2) The Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense founded on the Christian religion.
by Jim Walker
Originated: 11 Apr. 1997
Additions: 26 Dec. 2004
Many Religious Right activists have attempted to rewrite history by asserting that the United States government derived from Christian foundations, that our Founding Fathers originally aimed for a Christian nation. This idea simply does not hold to the historical evidence.
Of course many Americans did practice Christianity, but so also did many believe in deistic philosophy. Indeed, most of our influential Founding Fathers, although they respected the rights of other religionists, held to deism and Freemasonry tenets rather than to Christianity.
The U.S. Constitution
The United States Constitution serves as the law of the land for America and indicates the intent of our Founding Fathers. The Constitution forms a secular document, and nowhere does it appeal to God, Christianity, Jesus, or any supreme being. (For those who think the date of the Constitution contradicts the last sentence, see note 1 at the end.) The U.S. government derives from people (not God), as it clearly states in the preamble: "We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect Union...." The omission of God in the Constitution did not come out of forgetfulness, but rather out of the Founding Fathers purposeful intentions to keep government separate from religion.
Although the Constitution does not include the phrase "Separation of Church & State," neither does it say "Freedom of religion." However, the Constitution implies both in the 1st Amendment. As to our freedoms, the 1st Amendment provides exclusionary wording:
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. [bold caps, mine]
Thomas Jefferson made an interpretation of the 1st Amendment to his January 1st, 1802 letter to the Committee of the Danbury Baptist Association calling it a "wall of separation between church and State." Madison had also written that "Strongly guarded. . . is the separation between religion and government in the Constitution of the United States." There existed little controversy about this interpretation from our Founding Fathers.
If religionists better understood the concept of separation of Church & State, they would realize that the wall of separation actually protects their religion. Our secular government allows the free expression of religion and non-religion. Today, religions flourish in America; we have more churches than Seven-Elevens.
Although many secular and atheist groups today support and fight for the wall of separation, this does not mean that they wish to lawfully eliminate religion from society. On the contrary, you will find no secular or atheist group attempting to ban Christianity, or any other religion from American society. Keeping religion separate allows atheists and religionists alike, to practice their belief systems, regardless how ridiculous they may seem, without government intervention.
The Declaration of Independence
Many Christian's who think of America as founded upon Christianity usually present the Declaration of Independence as "proof" of a Christian America. The reason appears obvious: the Declaration mentions God. (You may notice that some Christians avoid the Constitution, with its absence of God.)
However, the Declaration of Independence does not represent any law of the United States. It came before the establishment of our lawful government (the Constitution). The Declaration aimed at announcing the separation of America from Great Britain and it listed the various grievances with them. The Declaration includes the words, "The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America." The grievances against Great Britain no longer hold today, and we have more than thirteen states.
Although the Declaration may have influential power, it may inspire the lofty thoughts of poets and believers, and judges may mention it in their summations, it holds no legal power today. It represents a historical document about rebellious intentions against Great Britain at a time before the formation of our government.
Of course the Declaration stands as a great political document. Its author aimed at a future government designed and upheld by people and not based on a superstitious god or religious monarchy. It observed that all men "are created equal" meaning that we all have the natural ability of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That "to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men." Please note that the Declaration says nothing about our rights secured by Christianity. It bears repeating: "Governments are instituted among men."
The pursuit of happiness does not mean a guarantee of happiness, only that we have the freedom to pursue it. Our Law of the Land incorporates this freedom of pursuit in the Constitution. We can believe or not believe as we wish. We may succeed or fail in our pursuit, but our Constitution (and not the Declaration) protects our unalienable rights in our attempt at happiness.
Moreover, the mentioning of God in the Declaration does not describe the personal God of Christianity. Thomas Jefferson who held deist beliefs, wrote the majority of the Declaration. The Declaration describes "the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God." This nature's view of God agrees with deist philosophy and might even appeal to those of pantheistical beliefs, but any attempt to use the Declaration as a support for Christianity will fail for this reason alone.