Today is the feastday of many martyrs, from early Christians like St. Agrippina of Rome, to martyrs of more recent governments, like Bl. Francis O’Sullivan and Bl. Thomas Garnet. (Yeah, how dare they tell people to be good.) Today is also the feastday of St. Joseph Cafasso, known for his long service as chaplain and confessor to men about to be hanged for their crimes. Since many were executed immediately after making a good confession, Cafasso referred to these men as his “hanged saints.”
There is no reason why a government can’t leave room for its citizens to practice their own faith, to do their own good works in their own way, and to argue their points in the public square. The work of a Cafasso is no skin off the government’s teeth, and it means the world to a condemned man and his family.
If a government is secure and just, it does not fear and hate its own citizenry, not even criminals. If a government is fearful and for good reason, it hates the best citizens most. It sees people giving to each other as taking away from devotion to the government, and prayer as sedition.
Of course, it helps if other people hate a religion also. (Jason Cordova has an interesting post about the plot twist that apparently makes his YA books unsellable.)
The other point of religious freedom is that, if everyone knows what other groups do and don’t believe, and everyone has the right to be themselves (no matter what the neighbors think) and nobody has the right to do anything worse than argue, we will tend to get along better — even if we think everybody else is nuts. Different US religious and philosophical groups argue noisily with each other, but we don’t murder each other. That’s the practical, idealistic wisdom of our Bill of Rights and our Founding Fathers, still working away.
If the safety valve of religious freedom is replaced by the cork of government regulation, we will have problems just like the other countries that go that way. I don’t want that. Nobody does.
The Bill of Rights belongs to all of US. We won’t let it go.