When was the
last time you discussed politics with a Pilgrim? "Never",
you say? Nor have I; however, to this day, their experiences, their
faith, and their values still impact our politics and our government
-even though many Americans could not tell you who they were, much
less the contributions they made to the development of our country.
story is one that many Americans should be able to identify with
today. After all, theirs is a story that grew out of hardship and
oppression and led to freedom - it is a story you know well, it is
America's story. It is a story that runs through the very fabric of
our culture. For, the legacy of the Pilgrims is the United States of
are enshrined in our founding document the Declaration of
Independence. Their offspring would later produce the Constitution of
the United States, the guiding governing document of our nation. In
it we find our rights as citizens in the first 10 amendments of the
Constitution, known as the Bill of Rights. First among those rights
guaranteed by the First Amendment is religious freedom for all, as
sought by the Pilgrims. This first amendment was a clear protection
for religious liberty in the United States of America, stating:
shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or
prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of
speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to
assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of
This was not
the concern of a secular society, or people. This was not the wishes
of some local or national Humanist, Free Thought, or Atheist society,
or the Socialist Party. It was the desire of those who believed that
faith is as important, if not more so, than government or one's
those today who would still try to trample on these sacred rights. We
see that somewhat played out in the current political environment.
But, who were the Pilgrims and how does their story have a place in
today's discussions regarding faith and religious liberty.
In 1620 the
Pilgrims landed at Plymouth, Massachusetts. Having survived a
tortuous ocean crossing, 102 of them stepped off the boat as free men
and women. Their journey had begun as exiles of their home country
where they had endured years of religious persecution for their
desire to worship God according to their own dictates, rather than
those of the government sanctioned Church. Staying true to their
convictions had cost them dearly, but on that day in 1620, they
entered that sweet land of liberty.
they had been taxed to support the Anglican Church, a church that
they differed with theologically. Very simply, the Pilgrims sought to
be left alone to worship God in the manner they thought most fitting.
This was at odds with the "official" Church and would prove
costly for them. Economically, they were discriminated against in the
job market; but, more importantly for them, they were also denied
their very rights to speak, to assemble peaceably, and to worship -
rights that would be guaranteed in their new country. Finding their
conditions intolerable under the Anglican Church, they thought exile
preferable to life in England and fled their homeland.
in Holland and found themselves in a nation that welcomed them and
allowed them to hold to their beliefs. However, it was not a nation
that shared their values and they now found themselves living in the
midst of a culture that was detrimental to the rearing of their
children in their faith and practice.
For them, this
was as intolerable as the religious persecution they had experienced
in England since, these exiles of conscience believed the practice of
their faith was to be indistinguishable from the actual belief they
held. In other words, the "walk" of their faith was to be
in accordance with the "talk" of their faith. This is not
to say they thought themselves to be perfect. No, they knew
themselves to be sinners saved by the loving sacrifice of a great and
gracious God. As such, they sought to so engraft their beliefs into
their daily actions as to make their faith obvious in every act,
word, or deed.
this had caused them to suffer the burdens of the royal ministers and
court that sought to inflict the King's will at the expense of
Christian belief and practice. Those in power burdened and bound them
with taxes, regulations, orders and obligations that violated the
most basic of their God-given rights.
Christians try to live out their own faith and practice today, are
they burdened by some in government who think it their place to
"rule" the American people - even going beyond the
constraints of constitutional limitations? Public minded
"servants" of the people who think of themselves as a
"national nanny", unleashed from a mere Constitution,
strive to implement their noble vision - whether beneficial, benign,
or belligerent - for a people, they think, unable to determine their
own best interest.
entered a new world of "transformational" politics, where
those who govern seem to think it unnecessary for the "Pilgrim
citizens" to understand the laws Congress enacts. Their world
doesn't require messy, reasoned, thoughtful, knowledgeable debate. As
Speaker Pelosi famously said, regarding the Patient Protection and
Affordable Care Act (commonly called Obamacare), "We have to
pass the bill so you can find out what is in it." She certainly
spoke the truth, as two years after its passage, we are still
"finding out" what is in it.
Democratic Congresswoman Kathy Dahlkemper, a pro-life, Catholic from
Erie, Pennsylvania, realized not knowing what was in the bill could
be a problem. She agreed to vote for Obamacare only after obtaining
assurances from the President and Speaker Pelosi that Catholic owned
institutions would be exempt under conscience provisions which are
protected by the First Amendment. Having garnered these assurances
she argued for passage of the bill, realizing, as the debate raged,
she had likely sacrificed her congressional career.
currently stands, one sixth of the economy was seized under a law
that was unread, not understood and misrepresented by those who
authored it. Because it was passed before anyone could read it
thoroughly, certain safeguards in the passing of legislation were
missed. The privileged relationship between a physician and a
patient, protected by law is under threat. And, perhaps most
importantly, the usual protections for First Amendment rights were
left out as conscience provisions were never inserted in the bill to
protect the long-standing religious liberties held by devout
practitioners of many faiths.
seemed to realize this early on as, one year after losing her seat in
Congress, she stated in a press release by Democrats for Life of
America, "I would have never voted for the final version of the
bill if I expected the Obama Administration to force Catholic
hospitals and Catholic Colleges and Universities to pay for
contraception. We worked hard to prevent abortion funding in health
care and to include clear conscience protections for those with moral
objections to abortion and contraceptive devices that cause
assurances made to Dahlkemper proved to be empty promises when Health
and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, herself a Roman
Catholic, announced federal guidelines under Obamacare would not
exempt non-profits with religious affiliation (including schools and
hospitals) from providing preventative health measures
(contraception) for women. Catholic institutions immediately
responded, as did other religious entities, creating a heated
controversy. Even the majority of Catholics who allow for the use of
contraception were outraged that the government was inflicting its
will upon the Catholic Church.
As those who
opposed Sebelius' announcement recognized, the real issue is not one
of abortion, or one's preferred contraceptive method, or Obamacare,
for that matter. Nor is it one of faith or no faith - of fervor,
devotion, denomination, or religion. The essential issue here is do
Americans retain the freedom to act as their forefathers intended?
Are we today moral agents as were the Pilgrims and their offspring
who fought for this right as Continental soldiers?
instance the "well intentioned" regulations put in place by
Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, ignited a storm of protests. For a brief
period, the "Pilgrim" unity was profound - secular organizations,
non-Christian religious denominations, as well as other Christian
denominations rallied to the defense of Catholic institutions. It was
obvious this was not really an issue of "women's health
care", as large segments of Democrats and Republicans alike
rallied to the defense of religious liberty.
range of conservative organizations and religious denominations (or
segments of denominations) was to be expected, another interesting
coalition occurred. Conservative and liberal Roman Catholics,
including many members of the media, took the regulations as a slap
at their church. A unity of purpose - protecting the Catholic Church
- rallied an overwhelming majority of active, inactive, lapsed,
conservative, moderate, liberal and devout Catholics.
The swift and
sudden reaction caused shock to those backing the regulation and the
administration quickly stepped away from their original stance and
offered a fall-back position. An initially stunned major media
rallied to the new compromise. They turned their focus to the irony
that the number of Catholics supporting their Church's right to
defend its theology regarding abortion and contraception was about
the same as those members who used, or defended the use of
contraceptives. Now framed and popularly accepted as a debate over
the use of contraception, instead of religious freedom, the previous
contraception is NOT the issue. Religious independence - the bedrock
of all of our freedom is the point. The focus, despite the cares and
joys of life, is whether or not we shall maintain our most
fundamental liberty. Will you decide for yourself, or will you have
someone dictate an action, decide a belief, or disallow your choice
debate ranges from the hushed mellow tones of National Public Radio
to the more animated conversations and rants heard
on liberal and conservative talk-radio; from
the din of a construction site, or tailgate party, to the office
water cooler. We love a good debate. It resembles an intellectual
sporting event, complete with verbal clashes, sparring, and hits.
Many of us enjoy open conversation, Internet blogging, competitive
tweeting, and the rough and tumble of debate in full and free terms.
But what we like most is coming to our own conclusion.
We can't stand
to lose! But if lose we must, to the American psyche it must've been
a fair fight. Legendary Green Bay Packers coach, Vince Lombardi
recognized this with his famous quote, "Winning isn't
everything--but wanting to win is." Coach Lombardi obviously was
talking about football, but he tapped into the great reserves of the
American character when he told his men, "The greatest
accomplishment is not, in never falling, but in rising again after
relish victory, we can stomach defeat, but we detest cheating and
find ultimatums absolutely intolerable. In this round those in power
backed off. What about the next time? Will people of faith rally
again, or has the opening shot brought about an anesthetizing effect?
Will we be more pliant, accepting or complacent next time?
This time, the
affront to our most basic God-given right of freedom of worship was
aimed at the largest identifiable association in America - 77.7
million members of the Roman Catholic Church. What if the next target
is a small sect, suspected by neighbors, envied by rival
congregations, and easily ridiculed by the mainstream media?
spirit of the Pilgrims still live in us 400 years into the journey to
a new culture?
will 102 Americans value their religious liberty enough to suffer for
their faith - to stand up for their God-given rights and the rights
serves as the Executive Director of CapStand. Mr Bragan has an
extensive background in political activism having served on numerous
political camnpaigns and, most recently serving on Capitol Hill as a
Congressional Counsel and Legislative Assistant. He has lectured in
20 states on political activism, finance, organization and elections.
He can be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org