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Free Press & Pulpit: On the First Amendment

Patrick Henry Reardon

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Inasmuch as Christ our Lord obliges all Christians to "render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's" (Matt. 22:21), I suppose that few of us seriously doubt our common moral duty to take part in the civic life of our nation, including its politics. Even those who fail to notice St. Paul's contention that this obligation is imposed "for conscience' sake" (Rom. 13:5) probably live as good citizens, rendering "taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor" (13:7).

Inspired by the Epistle to Diognetus to think that "Christians are in the world what the soul is in the body," most of us vote, pay taxes, serve on school boards, and organize and contribute to endeavors philanthropic. Some even run for and serve in elected public office. More significantly, the flag of this nation has draped the caskets of Christians slain in her patriotic service.

It is my own persuasion that active patriotism is not optional, and merely sentimental patriotism is no substitute. I believe that we Christians must not separate our Christian faith from our moral responsibilities to this country.

To understand the reason for this, let us recall why freedom of religion is guaranteed in this nation. The context of that guarantee is inscribed in the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States: "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."

It is important to examine carefully the precise wording of this very precisely worded affirmation. It does not say that religion and the press shall be prohibited from bringing political influence and power to bear on Congress. It says, rather, that Congress must not bring political influence and power to bear on religion and the press. In not the slightest respect does the First Amendment restrict the influence and activities of religion and the press with respect to the political life of the nation. The restrictions in this amendment are laid entirely on the government, none of them on religion and the press.

Fr. Patrick Henry Reardon is pastor of All Saints Antiochian Orthodox Church in Chicago, Illinois, and a Senior Editor of Touchstone: A Journal of Mere Christianity.

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Read the entire article on the Touchstone Magazine website.

Posted: 11/16/04



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