Baptists were at the forefront of the adoption of the Bill of Rights – – the first 10 amendments to the Constitution.
It is no question why freedom of religion is the first amendment to the Constitution. Freedom to worship and to practice faith as one believes and the separation of church and state are at the heart of our natural rights.
James Leland, a Baptist minister, pushed James Madison and others in the political forefront of the new nation to adopt the Bill of Rights.
Baptists wanted to ensure that the states would not favor one religion over another. That is what was meant by the separation of church and state.
For this reason, many Baptists opposed the pope’s address to the joint session of Congress. Did you know that this was the first religious leader to ever address a joint session of Congress? Did the Congress of the United States do more than break a precedent? Did they, in fact, favor one religion over another?
The first amendment to the Constitution ensures the right of the people to worship and practice their faith as they see fit. It was not written to protect the state from religion, but religion from the state. The framers of the Constitution and the states that ratified the Bill of Rights knew that the danger of tyranny is from state power. They wanted to protect the freedom to exercise one’s religion.
All of this is clear in Thomas Jefferson’s famous letter to the Danbury Baptists. (You can read about Jefferson and the Danbury Baptists here: http://waylonbailey.com/2013/07/24/thomas-jefferson-and-the-separation-of-church-and-state/). These Baptists were concerned about the power of the state to favor one religion over another and to use the state’s power to suppress religious freedom.
What a prescient people they were. Their concerns seem to be playing out in 2015 America.
May God grant us His favor and may we be vigilant about the basic right – – the right to exercise our faith openly and freely.
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