Fortnight for Freedom Issue #3: Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput speaks about religious freedom.

First, religious freedom is a cornerstone of the American experience. This is so obvious that once upon a time, nobody needed to say it. But times have changed. So it’s worth recalling that Madison, Adams, Washington, Hamilton, Franklin, Jefferson–in fact, nearly all the American founders–saw religious faith as vital to the life of a free people. Liberty and happiness grow organically out of virtue. And virtue needs grounding in religious faith.

Gertrude Himmelfarb, the historian, put it this way: The founders knew that in a republic, “virtue is intimately related to religion. However skeptical or deistic they may have been in their own beliefs, however determined they were to avoid anything like an established Church, they had no doubt that religion is an essential part of the social order because it is a vital part of the moral order.”

Here’s my second point: Freedom of religion is more than freedom of worship. The right to worship is a necessary but not sufficient part of religious liberty. Christian faith requires community. It begins in worship, but it also demands preaching, teaching, and service. It’s always personal but never private. And it involves more than prayer at home and Mass on Sunday–though these things are vitally important. Real faith always bears fruit in public witness and public action. Otherwise it’s just empty words.

The founders saw the value of publicly engaged religious faith because they experienced its influence themselves. They created a nation designed in advance to depend on the moral convictions of religious believers, and to welcome their active role in public life.

Here’s my third point…

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True or False: The U.S. Constitution Defines Blacks As Three-Fifths of a Person?

It’s a tired refrain – the Founders were racists, the Declaration didn’t really mean all men, the Constitution is pro-slavery. It’s also a gross distortion of our history – as King well knew when he invoked the promise that “all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” at the heart of the Founding.

The Constitution, contrary to what the New York Times would have you believe, does not classify people according to race. Free blacks in the North and the South were counted on par with whites for purposes of apportionment. As for enslaved blacks, it was the Southern states that wanted to count them as full persons, thereby inflating pro-slavery representation in the House. The three-fifths compromise was aimed at preventing Southern states from magnifying their own political power by holding slaves.

Yet this myth of a racist Founding has, unfortunately, become deeply entrenched in academia and among the chattering classes. It’s taught in high schools and colleges nationwide and has become unquestionable dogma for many.

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