Courts Acknowledge Religion Protects Against Tyranny

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Recent decisions from the Supreme Court of the United States in Town of Greece v. Galloway, and the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court in Doe v. Acton-Boxborough Regional School District acknowledge the Founding Fathers conviction that religion protects us from the tyranny of anarchy and unrestrained government. It’s no secret that many of our founding documents reflect a conviction that there is an authority higher than government. For example, the Declaration of Independence says that all “are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.” Those rights don’t come from a constitution or statute, but from being created by God. They are part of the dignity of being human.

That foundational principle has been under fire for some time from secularist groups who claim religion has nothing to do with government. But they suffered two huge defeats before the highest court in the land on May 5, 2014, and four days later in the highest court in Massachusetts on May 9, 2014. ADF represented the Town of Greece in its defense against an attack on its policy of allowing any local religious leader who so desired to open council meetings in prayer. The Supreme Court held the town’s policy was perfectly constitutional, and in doing so made a profound observation about the purpose of these prayers.

“Ceremonial prayer is but a recognition that, since this Nation was founded and until the present day, many Americans deem that their own existence must be understood by precepts far beyond the authority of government to alter or define…”

In other words, there is a law higher than government that provides us with rights and responsibilities and it can be invoked when government over steps its bounds.

The very same week, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court reiterated this principle in rejecting a challenge to the voluntary recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools. The atheist plaintiffs in the Doe case complained about the words “under God”, which were added by Congress in 1954 when Communist nations were increasingly exporting their Godless and tyrannical form of government.  The court ruled in favor of voluntary recitation of the pledge, noting that including the words ”under God”

“was intended to underscore that the American form of government was founded on the concept of individuality and the dignity of the human being, which is grounded in the belief that the human person is important because he was created by God and endowed by Him with certain inalienable rights which no civil authority may usurp.”

Acknowledgement of an omnipotent Creator necessarily imposes a limitation on institutions like governments.

This principle has huge implications for society. It doesn’t just mean that governmental authorities are accountable to a higher authority. It also means individuals have a responsibility to obey God’s law, even if no civil law is being violated. And what’s right and wrong isn’t determined by majority vote or by the latest polls. Government is not the source of our rights, nor is it the source of our morality. This is the very essence of self-governance: freedom exercised responsibly. Without God, freedom merely becomes license to do whatever you can get away with. The resulting anarchy necessitates the imposition of a government that inevitably becomes tyrannical without God.

Thank God our Founding Founders had the common sense to understand this, and thank God our judges still recognize that wisdom.

Author: Kevin Theriot – Senior Counsel, Litigation,

Author: Alliance Defending Freedom