If there is one right many of us, as both Americans and Believers, exercise and enjoy today it is that of religious liberty. And though in our land this freedom is widely viewed as inherent, we as a people have oftentimes taken this liberty for granted. We’re forgetful of the many internal political struggles which took place to ensure this precious protection, failing to realize that had this issue (as well as many others) not been addressed at that critical time, the state of our nation would be in a greater dire strait today.
When the Constitutional Convention was called in 1787, its initial purpose was to address certain problems by amending the current constitution, the Articles of Confederation. But thanks to the enlightenment of a large group of delegates, it was decided the entire body would hear and hammer out proposals relating to the construction of an entirely new founding document, and its subsequent government as well.
It is common knowledge the document we revere today as our Constitution was passed by this Convention, though many (if not all) of the delegates were not completely satisfied with the final result. This sentiment was greatly manifested amongst the citizenry in the formation of the popularly-dubbed “Anti-Federalists” group and the circulation of their letters, which protested what they saw as 1) the Convention’s overreach in creating an entirely new system of government, 2) the extensive powers granted to the proposed federal government, and 3) the lack of a bill of rights.
Surprisingly, however, was the opposition made to this Constitution by none other than James Madison’s constituents in Virginia. Geographically predominantly Baptist, the vast majority of the Orange County populace subscribed to the Anti-Federalist viewpoint spread by the famed orator Patrick Henry. And when an admired local preacher by the name of John Leland indicated his support of the aforementioned’s outlook on ratification of the proposed Constitution, he was promptly nominated as the Anti-Federalist candidate versus Madison for delegate to the ratifying convention of the state.
Before facing off at a public meeting in which both would make their pitch to the people, Madison paid Leland a visit to discuss the issues at hand and hear the esteemed reverend’s and Baptists’ concerns, one being religious liberty. After spending over half the day talking with one another, the two cordially parted.
The ensuing debate came. Madison took the floor first, “…fairly meeting and replying to the arguments, which had been put forth by his opponents…” Leland noted. Furthermore, the people, he mentioned, “…listened with respectful attention.” For us today, it is quite easy to believe this connection between Madison and the electors was a result of the former’s reflections on the concerns of the latter. How else would he be able to answer them in such a way for all to remain focused on such a fiery and intense topic of the day?
It was there that Leland made a bold and startling decision before all. Upon rising to speak, he promptly suspended his candidacy and placed his full support behind his Federalist opponent! As expected from such a move, Madison was easily elected, thereafter playing a major role in the state of Virginia’s ratification of the Constitution. Following this, the Virginian followed through on his constituents’ concerns, becoming one of the many champions of the Bill of Rights, most notably the religious liberty protection granted us in what we know today as the First Amendment.
It is due to the working of the Divine Hand of God that this most important issue was publicized and addressed as a result of Leland’s unsuccessful candidacy. Because of this, Believers in our nation are not forced to go underground to avoid persecution by other religions or the government, as in Communist China. Nor are churches required to register with the state like many must do in Russia, or otherwise face prosecution. It is thanks to our God who used the Founding Fathers to ensure passage of this legal protection that we can still largely exercise and enjoy our religious rights today.
As indicated in the previous sentence however, it doesn’t stop there. The inherent human right to religious liberty has been under constant attack in America, from the time of the formation of English colonies to our current setting today. Whether from government policies, political groups, or even other religions, the efforts to deny such a right have been relentless and unceasing, and will sadly continue to be so. But now is not the time to give up or admit defeat.
Now is the time to stand for the blessing of a free nation our God has given us. Now is the time to stand and live out the values that it was founded on. Now is the time to stand so that my generation, as well as the next, can freely exercise and enjoy its religious liberty. But perhaps now, more so than ever before in the history of our great nation, is the time to stand for God, the Maker and Giver of this liberty.