Lisa Navarrette, MS
What is an inalienable right? An inalienable right is a right that cannot be taken away, not by man nor by the government. It is an inherent, natural right bestowed upon people through their Creator. It must also be a legal right to protect citizens against tyranny and oppression by governments and opposing groups. This atmosphere of freedom exists when governments champion the pluralism of their country by affording its citizens the inalienable right to worship their god(s) as they see fit.
The pursuit of happiness often manifests in answering the question: What is the meaning of life? Individuals often find this answer in religion or religious practices. Spirituality is a personal journey, and no individual should be punished or coerced into performing acts against their religious or moral code. While documents granting specific legal, religious freedoms have existed since the Cyrus Cylinder (530 B.C.), the Founders of the United States penned many documents explaining the philosophy behind the notion that religious freedom is an inalienable right.
Religious freedom in the United States was born out of the religious persecution in England, which persisted in the colonies. From 1760-1778, there were over 150 known physical attacks against Baptists in Virginia by members of the Anglican church. These attacks were witnessed by the young James Madison. Madison became a very vocal advocate for religious freedom. He believed that religious freedom was an inalienable right. In 1785, he explained his stance on religious freedom in Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments. This document became the inspiration for both the Constitution and the First Amendment. His writing depicts and explains the God-ordained nature of the inalienable right of religious freedom.
“Because we hold it for a fundamental and undeniable truth, ‘that Religion or the duty which we owe to our Creator and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence.’ The Religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man, and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate. This right is, in its nature, an unalienable right. It is unalienable because the opinions of men, depending only on the evidence contemplated by their own minds, cannot follow the dictates of other men: It is unalienable also because what is here a right towards men is a duty towards the Creator. It is the duty of every man to render the Creator such homage and such only as he believes to be acceptable to him. This duty is precedent, both in order of time and in the degree of obligation, to the claims of Civil Society. Before any man can be considered a member of Civil Society, he must be considered a subject of the Governor of the Universe: And if a member of Civil Society enters into any subordinate Association, he must always do it with a reservation of his duty to the General Authority; much more must every man who becomes a member of any particular Civil Society, do it with a saving of his allegiance to the Universal Sovereign. We maintain, therefore, that in matters of Religion, no man’s right is abridged by the institution of Civil Society and that Religion is wholly exempt from its cognizance. True it is that no other rule exists by which any question which may divide a Society can be ultimately determined, but the will of the majority, but it is also true that the majority may trespass on the rights of the minority.
James Madison was not the only one who held this deep conviction. Thomas Jefferson, the author of a great portion of the Declaration, stated, “I have considered it [religion] as a matter between every man and his maker, in which no other, and far less the public, had a right to intermeddle.” Some have argued that the Founding Fathers found religious freedom so important that it was the first right given in the Constitution.
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.
The Founders wrote from their deeply held Christian beliefs. They understood that what they sought to create was a nation where a beautiful religious pluralism could be achieved. Christians believe that God is sovereign and making Himself known to the people in the U.S. and abroad. Christians, like other faiths, have the opportunity to proselytize through missions and evangelism. Jesus reminds Christians, in Matthew 13:1-58 (ESV), to plant the seed, and the Holy Spirit will do the work, meaning, present the gospel and leave the rest to God. Therefore, there is no need to suppress other religions or religious expressions.
The Founders, having a deep understanding of this principle, devised freedoms not just for their fellow Christians but for all citizens. Thomas Jefferson knew that persecuted people would look to the U.S. as a defender of religious pluralism. “A just and solid republican government maintained here will be a standing monument and example for the aim and imitation of the people of other countries.” The U.S. is still revered as a beacon of hope and a defender of religious freedom across the globe. Religious freedom is an inalienable right because it transcends time, place, and national borders. It is a right that should not be infringed upon because of its inherent inalienable nature.
Lisa Navarrette has studied at both Roosevelt and Harvard Universities and is pursuing her Doctorate in Law & Policy at Liberty University. She writes for several human rights organizations and hopes her writing will impact securing justice and human rights for all people.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of International Christian Concern or any of its affiliates.