Rich Galen
This is the full text of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution; the first of the Bill of Rights. Note the first clause, of the First Amendment:

"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."

I wanted to get the specific language of what we generally refer to as the "Freedom of Religion" on the table, because it appears that we may be on the brink of the worst sectarian violence since the end of the Third Crusade, over 800 years ago.

The flash point appears to be between Christianity (33 percent of the world's population) and Islam (about 21 percent) which rank 1 and 2 among the number of adherents worldwide; 2.1 billion and 1.5 billion respectively.

Judaism, which predates them both, has only about 14 million adherents, and is potentially the match that lights the fire. But, there's plenty of fuel on both sides.

At the time of the formulation of the Bill of Rights, state-sponsored religion was the normal order of things throughout much of the world - certainly in monarchial Europe.

The Queen Elizabeth still carries, as part of her official title, "Defender of the Faith."

James Madison, according to the Cornell University Law School, first proposed this as the preferred language to the U.S. House in June, 1789:

"The civil rights of none shall be abridged on account of religious belief or worship, nor shall any national religion be established, nor shall the full and equal rights of conscience be in any manner, or on any pretense, infringed."

The House and Senate debated the specifics of the proposal and arrived at the current language in a Conference Committee in September of that same year.

Those were the days when compromises were not only sought, but were actually achievable.

As with other parts of the Bill of Rights, no right is absolute. The Second Amendment does not confer the right to own an atomic weapon, nor will declaring your fealty to the Fourth Amendment …

"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated…"

… allow you to board a commercial airliner without going through a TSA checkpoint.

Christmas and Easter are official holidays during which employers are often required to compensate employees who have to work during those days. Battles over a requirement to teach creationism side-by-side with evolution in public schools would also appear to present interesting arguments about "Freedom of Religion."

As part of America's desire to spread the American view of liberty - and this way, WAY predates George W. Bush - we have felt very free to instruct other nations as to how they might best handle the issue of religious freedom.

We cheered the ascent of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk as the first President of the secular Republic of Turkey in 1923. The Republic replaced the Islamic-oriented Ottoman Sultanate which had ruled much of Asia and the Middle East since 1301.

Yet, in 1948 the United States was the first to recognized the State of Israel even though it was clear it would be a "Jewish State."

We have had little trouble turning a blind eye to even the most egregious excesses of some Islamic states. It is doubtful we would have gone to war to rid Afghanistan of the Taliban so that girls could go to school, but they were foolish enough to allow al Qaida to establish its training bases there.

Iraq, under Saddam Hussein, was a secular state yet we used our overwhelming military power remove him; while spending tens of billions to support the brutal (but secular) regime of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt.

And, of course, we have official diplomatic relations with the Holy See - the Vatican - even though it is about 110 acres, has a population of just over 800, and is the home of the head of the Catholic Church.

From cartoons to invisible movies; from no-headscarves rules to no-circumcision laws; the world appears to be moving toward religious strife, not toward a greater tolerance.

These are dangerous times. Best to try and understand them.


Rich Galen

Rich Galen has been a press secretary to Dan Quayle and Newt Gingrich. Rich Galen currently works as a journalist and writes at Mullings.com.