It doesn’t take long to hear outcries for “separation of church and state” when any mention of God is uttered or displayed on public property. In response, there is an outcry from the other side for “freedom of religion.” I wonder how many people to realize that both sides of this argument lean upon the same Constitutional foundation? It is the first amendment that guarantees both “separation” and “free exercise” with regard to religion. It stands to reason then that a proper understanding of the first amendment must somehow reconcile these two phrases.
Religion is by definition a doctrinal system particular to a given group and by its very nature is sectarian. Trying to meld religions is like trying to mix oil and water. Many religious backgrounds are common among Americans. These groups disagree about how to baptize, how to worship, what songs to sing, and even some important doctrinal issues. The founders foresaw this religious homogeneity, and so to avoid unnecessary conflict they rightly judged that government should not establish one religion as superior to another. Hence, they mandated (at the insistence of some very religious people) that government could not establish a particular religion to be followed by all Americans.
The same sentence that decrees no establishment also demands free exercise. Balance of these two concepts is possible by understanding of Faith. Faith is more than a nebulous, non tangible hope so, kind of mindset. Faith is a firm assurance in a power beyond ourselves that is in fully capable of ordering this world. Faith is spoken of in definite terms like “evidence” and “substance” in the New Testament. Faithful God followers in both the Old and New Testament relied on a relational perspective of the Deity that is most often referred to in the familial language of father and child. While religion may be something one adopts by mental assent, faith is a matter of the heart. Religion is expressed by specific lines of division, while faith is expressed in terms of inward confidence and hope.