John Quincy Adams, our sixth president, knew a thing or two about the early struggles of our republic.
“Posterity — you will never know how much it has cost my generation to preserve your freedom,” he said. “I hope you will make good use of it.”
But patriots like our Founding Fathers seem rare today, and historical records often conceal the fact that many of them were people of faith. Either because of timidity or a reluctance to offend, we have let our religious freedoms erode.
Fifty years ago, in the early 1960s, the Supreme Court issued two rulings banning state-sponsored prayer from public schools. Today, our judicial system frowns on posting the Ten Commandments in public places. And the phrase “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance remains a hotly debated topic.
Something similar happens every Christmas, when people who don’t believe in Jesus protest public displays celebrating the birth of Christ. In reality, this denies Christian Americans their heritage and limits free speech and religious liberty.
But one of the worst examples of our eroding freedoms came in July, when Michael Salman of Phoenix, an ordained pastor, was jailed and fined for hosting Bible studies on his property.
“We want to stand for not only our beliefs,” his wife, Suzanne Salman, said, “but for every believer in Phoenix that wants to host a Bible study in their home. …”
City officials say the dispute is about safety and zoning. Not to minimize the need for safety, but when did code violations become more important than one of our most basic rights as Americans?
John Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute, a civil liberties organization, was appalled by the city of Phoenix’s actions.
“The key is — the Constitution guarantees the right to freedom of religion … the right to assemble and talk to each other wherever you want to be — in public or in your home,” he said. “The thing that I think is so shocking is that you might expect this in Iran or [someplace] around the world … but happening in the United States, this is so shocking it’s beyond belief.”
God bless the Salmans. People who are willing to take a stand for their faith seem to be the exception, not the rule, today.
Sadly, over the years, the principles of the First Amendment have been twisted by the federal courts. The phrase “separation of church and state” isn’t even found in the Constitution. Yet it is misquoted over and over again and hypocritically used for the purpose of debate.
Here’s what the First Amendment actually says: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . …”
Our Founding Fathers wanted to avoid a state-sponsored religion like the Church of England, not ban religion from public life.
This country was founded by men who loved their Creator. Four hundred years ago, they left the religious oppression of another land to build this one.
The first thing they did was place a cross on the shores of the Atlantic at Jamestown, Va. But it was more than a cross. It was the symbol that in this land, citizens should have the freedom to worship as they desire ... or the freedom to not worship at all.
Today, our freedoms are being stolen, and we’re letting it happen. Young men and women died in foreign lands to preserve the freedom we enjoy. We dare not diminish their sacrifice with our silence.
In the movie Last Ounce of Courage, many of these words are spoken by a mayor who decides to stand up for freedom. Words like these are not easily communicated to the masses today. But if we lose the spirit of religious liberty in our nation, we lose another precious right.
We cannot as a nation allow our diversity to damage our freedoms. Let us with gentleness in our debates resolve that we will preserve our freedoms. When we disagree, it should never negate a right or a freedom.
Too often, we stand for ideals that may appear to some to be just a notable stand against the realities of life. However, ideals are values born out of conviction that make our nation great. So as the story of a nation continues, let freedom still be instilled in a heart for patriotism.
God and country can still live in America, along with other ideals and hopes.
Kevin McAfee, founder of Veritas Entertainment, is the producer and director of Last Ounce of Courage, which opens Sept. 14 in theaters around the nation.
Publication date: September 13, 2012