Bill of Rights’ Most Important Liberty: Religion
Washington D. C., 11.07.2015 (constitution.com) – The Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments to the Constitution, listed non-negotiable constitutionally guaranteed freedoms in specific order, unchanged since 1791. James Madison, its chief architect, listed freedom of religion first; then speech, press, assembly, petition, right to keep and bear arms, and freedom from forced quartering of military members in one’s home.
Freedom from civil government overreach and interference was essential to establishing sustainable civil order and a just rule of law; the first ten amendments — only 468 words — were added to protect what the founders considered “preexisting rights” from federal government “encroachment.”
Freedom of religion was un-mistakenly listed as the first freedom of the Bill of Rights. And the term “religion” was well understood from its original context derived from the State of Virginia’s Bill of Rights. In Article 1, Section 16, Virginia’s Bill of Rights defines “religion” as “the duty which we owe to our Creator… the manner of discharging… [of which] can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence.” (Many significant words and phrases used to write the Bill of Rights to the U.S. Constitution were selected from preexisting documents and individual state constitutions’ declaration of rights, which provided more detailed definitions.)
Virginia’s Bill of Rights legally defined “religion” as a means to secure freedom from government coercion, which enabled a foundational protection for other freedoms.
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