Religious Freedom and Democracy

Eric Metaxas | BreakPoint | Friday, September 28, 2012

Religious Freedom and Democracy

When Benjamin Franklin emerged from the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787, a lady asked him, “Well, Mr. Franklin, what kind of government have you given us?” The old patriot gave his immortal reply, “Madam, we have given you a republic — if you can keep it.”

On Tuesday and Wednesday, we looked at the critical issue of whether we have what it takes to keep the American republic, through the lens of Os Guinness’s provocative and powerful new book, A Free People’s Suicide: Sustainable Freedom and the American Future.

The Constitution that Franklin and the Founders produced is dependent on what Guinness calls the Golden Triangle, which says that freedom requires virtue, and virtue requires faith, and that faith requires freedom.

The Founders knew this well. “We have no government armed with powers capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion,” John Adams said. “Avarice, ambition, revenge or gallantry would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

Virtually all of the Founders thought the same thing — whether they were Christians or not. As the non-Christian Ben Franklin said, “If Men are so wicked as we see them with Religion, what would they be without it?” For the Founders, the answer was crystal clear.

Thus, it’s no surprise that these men enshrined freedom of religion in the First Amendment. Religious liberty, commonly known as the “first freedom,” is absolutely at the heart of our republic, and without it, we lose everything.

While the Founders knew all this, we seem to have forgotten it. I’m shocked that we who claim to follow Christ are not focused on this issue as the elections approach. We’re more focused on economic and fiscal issues, which are also important, but our problems in these areas are symptomatic of deeper issues — in our leaders and in the American people.

The current administration apparently doesn’t understand, or doesn’t care to understand, the crucial importance of religious freedom to our experiment in ordered liberty. Maybe that’s why it has taken very definite steps to assert the primacy of so-called “sexual freedom” over religious freedom. This is not merely a matter of redefining marriage or forcing religious institutions to violate their consciences and pay for contraception, sterilizations, and the morning-after pill.

It’s a matter of a culture slowly but surely destroying itself — or, as Guinness says, “a free people’s suicide.”

But even a bare “freedom” is not enough. Guinness talks about two kinds of liberty. Negative freedom frees us from external constraint, such as overweening government. And that’s important. But Guinness says we also have to focus on positive freedom — the freedom to live out our highest ideals. It’s not just freedom from, but freedom for, that our republic desperately needs.

A Free People’s Suicide, is a superb book. You can get a copy at the BreakPoint bookstore online — please read it, and share it.

And folks, this weekend on “BreakPoint This Week,” you can listen to Os Guinness talk about A Free People’s Suicide with me and John Stonestreet. It’s a great discussion. If you can’t tune in on radio, you can listen by going to and clicking on “This Week.” Please, don’t miss it.

Eric Metaxas is a co-host of BreakPoint Radio and a best-selling author whose biographies, children's books, and popular apologetics have been translated into more than a dozen languages.

BreakPoint commentary airs each weekday on more than one thousand outlets with an estimated listening audience of one million people. BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today's news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print.

Publication date: September 28, 2012