Besides a smartly moderated forum of Republican candidates seeking to be the next 19th State District Court judge, those attending last week’s McLennan County Republican Party luncheon heard an uplifting prayer on occasion of the approaching Thanksgiving holiday, brimming with Christian pride and celebrating the cherished concept of religious liberty at the very roots of the Pilgrims’ coming to America.
Left largely unheralded: the Native Americans who joined the feast for the Pilgrims’ memorable Thanksgiving of 1621. None of us might be celebrating Thanksgiving today or even religious liberty in America with the Pilgrims so foremost in mind had some Indians not aided these immigrants from a faraway land. The Pilgrims might have perished in the New World, changing the course of history. Instead, all dined on waterfowl, venison, ham, lobster, clams, berries, fruit, pumpkin and squash — enough to arouse envy in some of us. Through the years, the tradition of expressing thanks for our many blessings has remained. Yet current times suggest we occasionally overlook all who play a role in our good fortune.
So over tables of plenty today let us offer a brief addendum to any prayer invoked for our nation and the many blessings we have in our constitutionally guaranteed god-given rights. The term “religious liberty” is regularly bandied about, especially by the White House and Republicans, but it must never suggest Christian liberty alone. The Constitution and Bill of Rights address religion in two considerable ways: The federal government cannot establish any religion or prohibit exercise of it (and the 14th Amendment, thankfully, mandates the same of individual states), nor can there be any religious test for public office.
This is why any constitutional republic rich in diversity also brims with legal challenges involving religious liberty: Many of us feel strongly about the divine truth of our faith — sometimes to such degrees we want to restrict or are willing to overlook the equal rights of the next guy, who may well subscribe to different religious beliefs and worship a different god. Quite possibly we saw a variation of this at the 2018 Midway Independent School District commencement ceremony involving a school official who required a student who claims to be of the Cherokee nation to remove a graduation cap bedecked with traditional Cherokee beads and a sacred eagle feather, according to a lawsuit subsequently filed.
The strongest guarantee we have that our own religion will be respected is through the very religious diversity that so wonderfully characterizes America. James Madison, “Father of the Constitution,” stressed that security of religious rights depends on “the multiplicity of religious sects.” In short, the best way to ensure our own religious rights are protected in the near and distant future is to ensure the religious rights of others are protected in the here and now under rule of law as set down by the Framers — and that this becomes a proud part of our culture and tradition. For if we forsake the rights of others among us today, who will step forward to aid us in unimaginable times that may lurk in our future, God forbid?