Why is it so difficult for freedom of religion to be understood? The wording in the First Amendment is not ambiguous, likely on purpose, and should be simple to understand and follow. But the first clause of that Amendment has seen so much misunderstanding and debate, especially over the last twenty years or so. Why is this? The clause is not long, and it certainly does not use big “legal terms” that are only understood by someone well versed in Constitutional law. The problem, it seems, lies in the simple fact that the entire U.S. Constitution is written in broad terms, and open to interpretation.
That interpretation changes as the times change. For example, in the late eighteenth century, when the First Amendment was written, the majority of the United States was Christian, or at least Judeo-Christian, in religious beliefs. That has obviously changed a lot in the 200-plus years of U.S. history, and while Christians remain the dominant religious group, many other groups have advanced their standing – partly due to the very freedom of religion that is at stake in this country. That is right: freedom of religion is at stake in the United States, and it is because of the freedoms it affords that it is failing.
So many groups have targeted other religions (or religion in general) in the name of religious freedom, that the waters of interpretation of the First Amendment have become severely muddied. As people tout “freedom of religion” to attack religion, they are destroying the very fundamental nature of the First Amendment, and that was to prevent the government from infringing on anyone’s religious beliefs. But now even that government that is supposed to be devoid of religious leanings is getting into the mix of things and forcing people to go against their religious beliefs in the name of fairness to all people. Now, if someone were physically hurting someone with their religious beliefs, that would be one thing. But no one is hurting anyone in any way other than hurting someone’s feelings by not accepting their business. And the government sees fit to interfere and fine these businesses and organizations for practicing their religious beliefs because, as they see it, to not do so would be to condone that religion. But in attacking that religion they are making a law against the religion, which is also contrary to the literal interpretation of the First Amendment.
What is to be done? Is the United States to abandon religious freedom because it has gotten so far away from the literal interpretation that the founders laid out in the late eighteenth century? Hardly. All that must be done is for the government to recognize the importance of a literal interpretation of the First Amendment, and follow that interpretation when passing laws that neither condone nor prevent any established religion.