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?