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Freedom of Worship

Seventy years ago, on February 27, 1943, Norman Rockwell’s “Freedom of Worship” appeared on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post.

During World War II, President Roosevelt declared Four Freedoms he felt were fundamental to humanity: freedom of speech and worship, and freedom from fear and want. Rockwell’s Four Freedoms paintings were made into posters for the US Second War Loan Drive in April 1943.

The freedom of worship is encoded in the Bill of Rights of the US Constitution: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” This twofold freedom has defined religious life in America for over two hundred years. No one can coerce us into any religion, and no one can prevent us from following our faith.

World War II was fueled by the Nazis’ hatred for the Jewish religion. The Nazis slowly stripped away the rights of Jews one by one, culminating in mass industrialized murder of unimaginable barbarity. Christians who dared to speak out joined their Jewish brethren in concentration camps. While Americans in early 1943 were unaware of the full scale of the Holocaust, they were fully aware of Nazi brutality toward the Jews. The freedom of worship in the United States became more precious than ever, increasing the poignancy of this work of art.

Today the First Amendment continues to define – and divide – us. The secular portion of American culture stresses the first part of the First Amendment, while people of faith prefer the second portion. In reality neither can exist without the other.

Many of the founders of the United States fled Europe because of state-mandated religion. For centuries Europe had been rocked by war and persecution as Catholics and Protestants battled for control of governments. The writers of the Constitution wanted none of that. They wanted a new type of country where your life did not depend on the religion of the current regime. Many people of faith think this country would be better off if everyone believed as we did. However, do we really want people to believe because they have to – or because they want to? God never forces people to come to Him…He draws with cords of love.

On the flip side, secular people must remember that people of faith have the Constitutional right to practice that faith – and that includes the right of speech. The current cry for tolerance carries a hidden message – to tolerate someone else’s beliefs means to silence your own. However, the Constitution does not include a right to not be offended. In fact, the right of free speech means all of us will be offended and often. Would you have it any other way? To silence those you disagree with carries the risk that you’ll be silenced yourself. To prevent someone from worshipping as they choose coerces them into the religion of no religion.

I believe freedom of religious speech should be practiced with love, respect, and intelligent debate – not with angry, strident, insulting yelling-over-the-other-person. But that’s my opinion, and you’re free to disagree.

What are your thoughts on freedom of worship?

5 Responses to “Freedom of Worship”

  1. Noelle the dreamer

    Sarah, your brought to mind something my GrandFather used to say: at his table, all were welcome, religion and politics being two subjects ‘verboten’!
    A quiet mannered man, he bartered his Jewish future SIL for a case of smoked eels (!!), (for the love of his daughter), let his only son’s Boy Scouts troop use a medieval escape route from his home to the nearby Cathedral to help refugees, (only to see the scoutmaster shot on the street for helping a Jew), his children’s Nanny deported because she was 1/4 Jewish, and another SIL denounce the family to the Gestapo.
    A Roman Catholic, described as a C & E, his faith was sorely tested when his son was ordered to dig his own grave (14 years old, he’d stolen an officer’s pair of boots and a camera).
    Even when given the ‘freedom’ to worship, there are many who do not appreciate it as they should unless they have gone through immense hardship!

  2. Noelle the dreamer

    Each of us have a story to tell Sarah, I only wish I had the skills to put it down on paper. It’s a dream of mine…
    Incidently, might I inquire if you have or will one day post about your experiences as group help/critique (?) as you did for Ann?
    Blessings Dear,

  3. Sarah Sundin

    Hmm. I hadn’t thought about writing about critique groups. It wouldn’t fit well on this blog – I don’t really target “writers” here, but it would make a good guest post. And I’m always looking for ideas!