Our Calling on Constitution Day: Education, Engagement, Empowerment
By BJC Advocacy and Outreach Manager Jaziah Masters
Today marks Constitution Day, the 233rd anniversary of the signing of the United States Constitution in 1787. We at BJC celebrate this day as an important reminder of our nation’s constitutional promises, as well as the work we must do to ensure that all people can enjoy the “blessings of liberty” promised in our nation’s founding charter.
To protect our constitutional rights, we must first understand and appreciate these rights, including our Constitution’s promise of religious freedom for all. That’s why, in my position as advocacy and outreach manager, I work to educate, engage and empower BJC’s supporters to defend our rights. When it comes to religious liberty, true empowerment requires education and active civic engagement.
So, on Constitution Day 2020, what does it mean to be educated, engaged and empowered in our pursuit of religious freedom for people of all faiths and none? To answer that question, let’s start with the only mention of the word “religion” in the original Constitution: Article VI, Clause 3, which ensures that “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”
To understand the context of the Constitution’s prohibition of religious tests, we must first realize that this provision didn’t spring up out of nowhere. It arose as a response to centuries of religious persecution by dominant religious organizations, backed up by state power. This persecution included banning religious minorities from holding public office, and the Constitution’s affirmation of religious diversity in civic life was a powerful rebuke of this discrimination.
In choosing to prohibit religious tests for public office, the founding framers rejected the path in some states that retained such exclusions based on religion. In other words, setting up a system based on religious neutrality was not a given for the new country. The choice was a visionary and inclusive move.
Constitution Day is an invitation to reflect: where have we upheld the Constitution’s vision of religious pluralism in public service, and where have we fallen short, allowing Christian supremacy and white Christian privilege to seep into our civic life? As with all our nation’s constitutional promises, we must be vigilant to ensure that we understand and uphold faith freedom in both word and deed.
This vision of active education leads us to prioritize community-based engagement. To defend religious freedom, BJC engages in a number of areas. We advocate with Congress, encouraging the passage of legislation that protects the religious rights of all people. We participate at the Supreme Court, making legal arguments to help uphold the Constitution’s religious liberty guarantees. We engage in the public square, building support for religious freedom among diverse constituencies.
Our most recent defense of Article VI has come about through our Christians Against Christian Nationalism campaign, which affirms both that “People of all faiths and none have the right and responsibility to engage constructively in the public square,” and “One’s religious affiliation, or lack thereof, should be irrelevant to one’s standing in the civic community.” In this campaign, we make the constitutional promise of faith freedom for all come alive in a movement of Christians raising their voices for religious pluralism.
Through this robust education and engagement with our constitutional values, we can empower people to be advocates. We can empower every individual, every family and every community to understand and live out their right to religious liberty. We can empower lawmakers to do the right thing on behalf of their constituents by protecting faith freedom for all. Perhaps most importantly, we can empower our nation to live up to the fullness of its constitutional promises.
So, on Constitution Day 2020, let’s continue our work to ensure that faith freedom is a right for everyone in the United States. Let’s continue to defend Article VI, the First Amendment and all our constitutional rights. Let’s work together for a nation where we can learn together, grow together and build a more just and equitable society together. Let’s educate, engage and empower one another in the work for religious liberty.
Jaziah Masters is the advocacy and outreach manager at BJC.