It’s hard to believe that another Easter already is upon us. Not only does Easter come early this year, but Monday’s snowstorm hardly seemed Easter-like.
But regardless of what Mother Nature has in store for us, Good Friday and Easter Sunday will be here this week, and those of the Christian faith will begin the observance of the holiest days of their religion upon which the foundation of their faith is based.
However, no matter what religious beliefs one may (or may not) hold, Easter this year is a particularly fitting time to contemplate what it means for every American to have the right of religious freedom in our country.
The Founding Fathers believed so strongly that every American should be free to practice the religion of their choice that they embedded it in the first sentence of the First Amendment, before the freedoms of speech, the press, or to protest:
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”
We bring this up because for the first time in recent memory, religion — and not in a positive way — has entered the realm of Presidential politics. Yes, it was said by some that if John F. Kennedy (a Catholic) were to be elected President, he would “take his orders from the Pope.”
Kennedy himself felt obligated to address such open “whispers” by giving a speech in which he discussed this issue. Kennedy said in pertinent part:
“But because I am a Catholic, and no Catholic has ever been elected President, the real issues in this campaign have been obscured — perhaps deliberately, in some quarters less responsible than this. So it is apparently necessary for me to state once again — not what kind of church I believe in, for that should be important only to me — but what kind of America I believe in.
“I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolute –where no Catholic prelate would tell the President (should he be Catholic) how to act, and no Protestant minister would tell his parishioners for whom to vote –where no church or church school is granted any public funds or political preference — and where no man is denied public office merely because his religion differs from the President who might appoint him or the people who might elect him.
“I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish; where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source; where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials; and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all.
“For while this year it may be a Catholic against whom the finger of suspicion is pointed, in other years it has been, and may someday be again, a Jew — or a Quaker or a Unitarian or a Baptist. It was Virginia’s harassment of Baptist preachers, for example, that helped lead to Jefferson’s statute of religious freedom. Today I may be the victim, but tomorrow it may be you — until the whole fabric of our harmonious society is ripped at a time of great national peril.”
In that spirit, we wish all of our readers of the Christian faith a joyous and Happy Easter.