by Josh HetzlerLegislative Assistant
It’s no small footnote in America’s immortal history that the very first part of the very first amendment in the Bill of Rights is devoted to protecting religious liberty against the coercion of government. For the first generation of free Americans, this choice was obvious and deliberate. To them, religious liberty represented the highest ideal and the reason their recent ancestors had ventured to this uncharted land in the first place. Indeed, they knew that religious liberty was a prerequisite for all other rights.
If history teaches us anything, it is that freedom is greatest when the right of the people to think, speak, and believe according to the dictates of their conscience is also at its greatest. Stated another way, freedom is at its lowest when people are prevented from thinking, speaking and believing according to their conscience, whether through intimidation or retribution.
The rights of free speech, the press, peaceable assembly and petitioning the government come as a package deal in the First Amendment, right behind the limitation on government getting involved in the people’s religious institutions and the guarantee to individuals of their free exercise of religion. Our founders understood something simple yet profound, which we somehow manage to overlook today: if you get one, you get all of them. If you lose one, you lose them all.
Think about it – if you have religious liberty, doesn’t it entail the right to speak freely? For how could you have religious liberty without free speech? How could you have free speech without free thinking? What good would free thinking be without the ability to speak freely? And what good would free speech be if we couldn’t write it down and disseminate it to others through the press and other mediums of communication? If you have religious freedom, then you must certainly have the right to peaceably assemble with others. If you have the right to petition government, then you must have the right to think, speak and publish what you believe – even, and especially when it goes against the status quo. I could go on, but hopefully you’re starting to get the picture.
You see, without religious liberty, we cannot be guaranteed any of the corresponding liberties which are sacred to all of us and which define and distinguish America. All of them are inseparably bound together. For this reason, we must, above all else, preserve religious liberty and protect the right of individuals to live according to their conscience. The entirety of our freedom depends upon it.