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Silencing Religious Freedom

August 24, 2016

Conservatives of a certain age who review the past half century can see that the United States is becoming more secular.

Secularization occurs when the religious beliefs of citizens change and when instrumentalities of the state restrict religious expression.

I conclude from my reading of the influence of Transcendentalism and Darwin’s Origins of the Species and the damaging effect of the American Civil War on the religious beliefs of Americans that a substitution of secular “civil theology” with formerly dominant Christian beliefs was occurring. That process began with the acceptance of Transcendentalism by our intellectual classes beginning in the early 1830s through 1865. a period during which the United States underwent a process of secularization.

Hillsdale College Professor of History, Richard Gamble, has argued that President Abraham Lincoln played an important role in this process.

Living in secularized American society of today affects religious expression. Left to themselves, the majority of American citizens would allow any and all expressions of traditional Jewish and Christian belief. But, the U.S. Supreme Court has contributed to secularization by interpretations of the First Amendment’s religious freedom and Establishment clauses.

Requiring a prayer in public schools of the state of New York was held to be unconstitutional in  Engel v. Vitale (1962).

“Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers and our Country.”

That prayer, inoffensive enough on its face, was seen to be an unconstitutional act of Establishment of Religion.

A review of these issues may be found in a study published by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

Today, though we tend to be dispassionate and accept these secular interpretations of religious freedom as “facts,” Protestant Pastors, as seen in  a recent survey, believe that religious freedom is in decline. A perception exists among these Protestant leaders  that American culture is at war with the religions of the American people.

I call this to your attention because I have begun reading The STRIPPING of the ALTARS  by Eamon Duffy which, in Part Two, examines how William Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, and Thomas Cromwell engaged in “stripping” England’s former “Catholic” Church of its holidays, feast days, pilgrimages and other celebrations after Henry VIII’s separation of the Church in England from the Roman Church.

Though many celebrate the good effects of the decision of Henry VIII to break away from the universal Church, the process was wrenching for those Christian believers for whom these celebrations were central to their lives.

The problem in America today is that secularization of America has made its way through American culture for more than 180 years. As a consequence, we no longer experience that secularization because steps to affirm that the United States is a secular nation state were taken long before we were born.

Recovery of that understanding is critical for sustaining the freedoms of American citizens from the intrusiveness of the American administrative state.

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