History of Religious Freedom and Suppression in the United States

Most Americans — starting at a young age — have heard their minister, parents and teachers talk about “freedom of religion.” It’s guaranteed, as we all know, by the First amendment — or the “establishment clause” of our constitution.

Many Americans — and certainly those practicing a more extreme faith — often interpret this to mean that “they” have a guaranteed right to practice their faith. But as a nation we frequently are much less tolerant of those who follow a different creed, or heaven help us, absolutely no creed at all.

For those of us in this latter group, “do we fall through protection cracks?” Seems that many say yes. But not so quick.

Not all Americans follow a deity-centered faith tradition. Since the founding of our nation, many great Americans — whether by choice or the dictates of intellectual honesty — have fallen into an overlapping subset of agnostics, atheists, and free thinkers. Many, maybe most, Unitarians proudly self-identify as “free thinkers.”

Free thinkers rely on logic and reason to form and guide their belief system. Isn’t that what we — as UU’s — do, or at least try to do? Our faith tradition number #4 states: “A free and responsible search for truth and meaning.”

So if the establishment clause guarantees our freedom of religion, does it not logically guarantee our freedom from religion? Many say no, and that is the subject we will discuss this morning.