Point of View: Misunderstanding the First Amendment

There has been much discussion about the Constitution, particularly the First Amendment. The phrase “separation of church and state” frequently appears in the Homer News and on social media. However, many who use this phrase have not researched its original intent. Had they done so, they would have started with the First Amendment itself, which states, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” These words are straightforward.

If one reads the original Congressional journals from when the First Amendment was written, it becomes clear that the Founding Fathers intended to prevent the establishment of a single national church, like the Church of England. According to these journals, the consensus was that Congress should not make any law establishing a religion or interfering with religious practice, thus ensuring freedom of religion.

The phrase “separation of church and state” originates from a letter written by Thomas Jefferson in 1801, ten years after the First Amendment was ratified. Jefferson was responding to a letter from the Danbury Baptist Association, which had expressed concerns that Connecticut’s official religion, Protestantism, infringed on their religious liberty. In his reply, Jefferson stated, “Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.”

Rep. Sarah Vance’s involvement with the National Association of Christian Lawmakers has led to accusations that she is breaking the First Amendment. What critics fail to realize is that Representative Vance is also protected under the First Amendment. She has not written or voted on any bills to establish a religion that all must follow or that prohibits any citizen from exercising their religion. Representative Vance has the right to exercise her faith, participate in a Christian organization, and hire Christians to work in her office.

The Founding Fathers established a government based on Judeo-Christian morals and values, which many, including myself, appreciate. Though not all Founding Fathers were Christians, they agreed that the values shared by the Bible were beneficial for society. Additionally, all Founding Fathers agreed to establish a government that would protect citizens’ freedom to choose any religion. This principle is what makes America the freest country in the world.

By researching and examining the original historical documents, the true meaning of the First Amendment regarding religion becomes clear. It is time for a refresher course on the Constitution. Once we reacquaint ourselves with it, we can start having informed and civil conversations based on facts and truths.

Cassie Lawver was born and raised in Alaska, with her family having deep roots in the Kenai area. After pursuing her college education in Missouri, she returned to Alaska to raise her family. She has been living in the Homer area for over 15 years.