Sunday, May 22, 2016

Freedom of Religion

Freedom of religion was something the Founding Fathers understood, but which was lost on second generation populists like Andrew Jackson. Jackson was a teenager during the revolution and even saw some action in the revolutionary war, but he did not have a good classical education like most of the founders, and so he was weak in his understanding of first amendment rights. Many Americans today also lack a classical education, and like Jackson, they think the government should push religion or require religious leaders to follow the government's agenda.

Andrew Jackson during the Revolutionary War
Brave Enough to Stand Up to the British,but Not Sure What He  Was Fighting For
Credit: Wikipedia

During the Martial Law imposed by General Jackson prior to the Battle of New Orleans, Jackson violated many of the provisions of the Bill of Rights, including freedom of religion. According to the Journal of Jean Laffite, Jackson ordered an unwilling priest, Antonio de Sedella, to instruct his congregation to pray for an American victory. I retell this story in Theodosia and the Pirates.

Excerpt from Theodosia and the Pirates

Jackson's heart was in the right place, but his mind did not grasp how violating the first amendment would destroy the freedom that he had sworn to fight for. Jean Laffite, on the other hand, understood all too well. His grandparents had suffered at the hands of the Inquisition in Spain. His grandfather was killed under torture. His grandmother survived to tell the tale.

A dedication by Jean Laffite to his grandmother
"I owe all my ingenuity to the great intuition of my Spanish Jewish grandmother, who was a witness in the time of the Inquisition"

Jean Laffite knew that de Sedella was a Spanish spy who had once been appointed as Grand Inquisitor for New Orleans when Spain still ruled over Louisiana. But Laffite understood that in order for America to come out of the war unscathed with its constitution intact, it was important to allow de Sedella and his parishioners the freedom to pray whichever way they wanted. The United States did not need forced prayers in order to win the Battle of New Orleans. It needed gunpowder and trained artillerymen, which Laffite freely supplied on his own initiative and at his own expense. He supported the United States, because he wanted to live in a country free from religious oppression. A country that would not oppress people like his grandmother.

Today, possibly because of our current public education system, very few people understand that the first amendment guarantees of religious freedom mean that we can't tell other people what to believe, what to pray for. or what ceremonies their clergy must perform. Hillary Clinton does not support freedom of religion and Donald Trump will not defend it. Among the Libertarian presidential candidates, Gary Johnson, whose heart might be in the right place, seems very confused about the first amendment right to freedom of religion.

Of all the candidates, only Austin Petersen has demonstrated the intellectual ability to articulate and stand up for the freedom of religion guaranteed in the first amendment. And that's one of the many reasons that I support his candidacy for President of the United States.

No comments:

Post a Comment