Greg Kirscher: Faith and freedom are in our DNA
While it often seems that non-profits and civic groups catch the brunt of church-state litigation, the latest casualty is a bit surprising — the American Legion.
In late February, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case of the American Legion vs. the American Humanist Association. At issue was a cross placed at a Maryland state road intersection in 1925 by the Legion to honor their World War I soldiers killed in action.
The cross stands several miles from the Supreme Court building and humanists claim it’s a violation of the Constitution’s First Amendment separating church and state.
Others contend this is yet another attempt to sweep the public marketplace clean of any reference to religion. They argue that the First Amendment already grants freedom of worship to all religions and prohibits government coercion to a state sponsored religion.
Now the justices face the epic task of uncovering our constitutional DNA, a bit more challenging than just clicking around Ancestry.com. Even as the justices sift through centuries of Constitutional Law and early American history, some proponents of the right to express their faith publicly point to research that’s already detected traces of Judeo-Christian tradition.
In his recent book, “Last Call for Liberty,” Oz Guinness explains how basic constitutional values like freedom, rule of law, consent of the governed, and separation of powers to name a few, originated with the Sinai Covenant after the Hebrew exodus from Egypt.
Centuries later, these basic values ran like threads through the Reformation, eventually weaving their way into English Common Law where they impressed political philosophers like John Locke. The Pilgrims and the Puritans carried the genetic mix of faith and secular to the New World.
Early colonial charters, as well as the Constitution, separated civic and religious life with varying degrees of interplay. Yet, the documents preserved many of the core structures and principles that originated with the Sinai Covenant.
Although secular philosophy formed government oversight, the Judeo-Christian faith was still within eyesight. During the Revolution, for example, James Madison was irked by clergy who balked at recognizing a Day of Prayer proclaimed by the Virginia House of Burgesses.
Similarly, noticing parallels between the Hebrew exodus and the colonial break with England, Franklin and Jefferson suggested that the lawmakers include elements of the Sinai Covenant in the Great Symbol of the United States.
Guinness concludes that attempts to purge the Judeo-Christian faith from civic life is more than just a denial of history; it’s a rejection of the underpinnings and basic values of our freedom. He warns that such a situation creates potential for an “anti-religion” that ultimately replaces basic freedoms with authoritarianism.
“It’s the biblical view, not secularism which puts freedom and responsibility squarely at the heart of … politics and a free society,” maintains Guinness. In other words, yanking out the taproot of Judeo-Christian faith from the public marketplace runs the risk of pulling the roots of our freedoms with it.
While it may take the Court most of the summer to figure out our constitutional gene pool, the most logical step might be to recognize where our freedoms originated in the first place. And that happens to be the faith of our fathers.