As the often heated, sometimes bitter debates that characterized the Constitutional Convention roared back and forth, month after month, throughout the long summer of 1787, Benjamin Franklin found himself gazing more and more at the painted image carved on the chair used by George Washington, who was presiding over the convention.
Franklin couldn’t decide, he told those sitting around him, if the image of a shining orb was supposed to represent the dawn of a new day…or dusk, and darkness coming on the land.
“Now,” he announced with a smile, as the Constitution was finally approved and signed on September 17, “I have the happiness to know that it is a rising, not a setting sun.”
Today, 223 years later, it’s sometimes tempting to want to pull out the old chair and look again. In America, the sunrise on tomorrow is only as sure as the state of our Constitution…and today, that state is shakier than it’s been in a long, long time.
Perhaps no element of that Constitution is more endangered than the First Amendment protections of religious liberty. That cornerstone of our nation’s freedom—the dream that brought the Pilgrims and so many of the other early settlers to our Atlantic shores—is now under direct, daily assault coast to coast.
From California courtrooms to the legislative halls of Massachusetts, our First Freedom is denounced as an impediment to those who would reinvent marriage into something it’s never been, and never can be. On university campuses, it’s all but outlawed as administrative officials segregate Christian students and their activities.
In public schools, religious freedom is ignored as educators work diligently to immerse our children in an aggressively secular world view. In hospitals and clinics and pharmacies across the country, it’s a freedom often denied to those whose religious faith prohibits their participation in abortion.
For far too many Americans, their awareness of the danger is as flimsy as their knowledge of the Constitution. For most, that understanding is limited to muddled memories from high school civics classes and a carefully orchestrated falsehood fabricated years ago by the American Civil Liberties Union and pummeled relentlessly into the public consciousness ever since: “separation of church and state.”
That so-called separation, and the growing legal assault it foments against people of faith, are both so far, far removed from any intention of those who hammered out our extraordinary, unprecedented Constitution that hot Philadelphia summer of so long ago.
Alan Sears, a former federal prosecutor in the Reagan Administration, is president and CEO of the Alliance Defending Freedom, a legal alliance employing a unique combination of strategy, training, funding, and litigation to protect and preserve religious liberty, the sanctity of life, marriage, and the family.