It was my privilege this morning to attend worship services with my fellow church members. Like many Americans,this is something we do every week without giving much thought to the fact that in many places in the world, Christians must meet in secret or risk punishment.
We are able to do this because of the words enshrined in the 1st Amendment of the Constitution.
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.
Lately, the President and his administration have been making arguments that would restrict the rights the religious have always enjoyed in this country. President Obama has suggested that freedom of religion does not extend to the workplace. He would require individuals and organizations to violate their conscience in support of things such as abortion and marriage of homosexuals. In support of his positions the President has been quoted recently as supporting “Freedom of Worship.” But Freedom of Worship falls far short of what is intended in the First Amendment.
While freedom of worship is certainly an important part of religious freedom, it is only a part of the rights guaranteed in the constitution. The first amendment guarantees that Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. In other words, the government is to be neutral in regards to religious belief and practice.
An examination of major religions quickly reveals that religious belief and practice is not limited to what happens at worship services. Under Old Testament Jewish law, the religious law regulated every aspect of life, economic, marital, sexual, family relationships etc. Religion was part of everyday life. Jews were commanded to teach their children the law “when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.”
Likewise Christianity affects every part of the Christians life. The teachings of Jesus and his apostles regulate a Christian’s marriage, his employment, his relationship with his family, his fellow-man and even his obedience to the government. And the teachings of Islam are similarly comprehensive in regulating the believers life.
The impact that religion has on an individuals entire life is the primary reason so many rulers have always tried to control religion. To control religion is to control what people think, believe, and do. The freedom to think and believe for yourself is foundational to liberty itself and this is why the founders listed freedom of religion along with freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of assembly in the First Amendment.
Should we be free to worship? Yes, but not just to worship. Worship is not where religion primarily takes place. Worship services are where we go to receive strength and encouragement to live our religion, at home and work, every day.