Freedom of religion is a fundamental right that many consider the most important of the rights specifically mentioned in the U.S. Constitution. Two men who are fervent believers in the importance of religious freedom are Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy and Rev. Barry Lynn. These two men are Constitutional crusaders who joined forces to produce this book, with contributions that include political/activist information as well as historical facts and legal analysis of the church state issue; where it presently stands and where it is headed.
First Freedom First opens with a pronouncement stressing the present crisis that religious freedom faces as the various factions of the Religious Right continue to erode religious freedom and continue to push the nation slowly toward a more theocratic form of government. Once the book has grabbed the reader's full attention in the introduction, it proceeds to talk about the issue of religious freedom complete with historical perspectives on religious freedom; the politicization of religion by certain groups; the debunking of popular church/state separation myths; the different ways that the Religious Right has tried to change the interpretation of the U.S. Constitution; and the importance of protecting the integrity of religion by keeping it beyond the reach of government control. Gaddy writes convincingly as he confronts the common falsehoods surrounding the meaning of the First Amendment and as he offers different means to promote religion by keeping it out of the political realm.
Lynn's part of the book is only slightly different. In this, the second part of the book, more history of the church/state issue is offered, complete with court cases and outcomes, as well as some commentary on the pressing issues of the day and how the Religious Right has exploited these issues for political gain. Issues as diverse as global warming and stem cell research are examined, with the book pointing out the possible motivations behind the Religious Right on some of the important issues of our day. In some instances, the motives seem pretty clear and it is easy to see why some members of these different organizations feel the way they do. But other issues are not so clear- cut, like global warming, for example. Most of the Religious Right's leadership either doesn't believe global warming is real; doesn't care about the consequences, or both. How global warming and its long- term implications are deserving of such a rebuke by the Religious Right is uncertain, since they have little or nothing to do with faith and morals, but the book offers a few possibilities so that the reader can gain a better understanding of the Religious Right mindset.
I like the inclusion of educational material relating to the U.S. Constitution and the meaning behind some of the legal terms that often lead to confusion among the members of the public. Those who have been active in the defense of religious liberty are fully aware of the meaning behind terms like "Establishment Clause" and "Free Exercise Clause", but many in the general public are often confused about the precise meaning of these terms. The book spells them out, clarifying their meaning with examples from history and with easy to understand explanations. But what is probably even more valuable than the education lesson on church/state separation are the sections of the book that offer answers to common questions posed to religious freedom advocates. Many books have examined the First Amendment and its meaning, so this isn't really anything new. But the sections of the book that directly respond to critics of religious freedom are very helpful to the pro- First Amendment activist. In these parts of the book, answers to common questions about church/state separation are offered along with responses to some of the common myths about religious freedom and those who support church/state separation. These are very helpful to the religious freedom activist, for they help to arm the serious proponent of religious liberty with sensible, respectful responses to the common misconceptions about this important right.
Many examples of church and state entanglements and their results are included in this book and while some of them are well- known, they never cease to amaze. From the Terri Schiavo case to Bush's so- called "Faith Based Initiative", the book points out the illogical, hypocritical, and often anti- freedom stance that is so commonly adopted by the Religious Right and its members. It is interesting when you consider that those in the Religious Right are supposedly pro- family to the extreme and want government to stay completely clear of any decision relating to family life, yet they have no problem allowing government intervention into one of a few key areas. I suppose they think they can have their own version of freedom and curtail the freedom of others. But as history has shown, this approach doesn't work. We can't have it both ways. If government is permitted to control certain aspects of family life, then it can ultimately control any aspect of family life. What was once the domain of the family members will now become the duty of government to oversee, to regulate, and ultimately, to control. The best prevention is to avoid allowing governments this level of power in the first place. By keeping government in check by adhering to the strict interpretation of the U.S. Constitution, democracy will thrive, individual liberty will flourish, and tyranny will never become reality.
Overall, First Freedom First is a very good, enjoyable, educational book by Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy and Rev. Barry Lynn. The book could use a little more length and I felt it came to a close too quickly, just when it was getting warmed up. I also like the resource section and would have liked it even more if it had included organizations and web sites to consult for further action. Still, First Freedom First is a very good, very readable book about the importance of religious liberty and the significance of Jefferson's Wall of Separation between church and state. Despite what some may lead you to believe, rights are not up for a vote. The U.S. Constitution guarantees the freedom of religion to all, regardless of belief and regardless of popularity, as well as the guarantee to be non- religious, if that is what one chooses. Some would like to see the wall of separation removed, but our past experience as Americans proves that both government and religion are, in fact, strengthened when they are kept separate.
Religious liberty is a critical right, and without it, many other rights would slowly dissolve. Religious freedom has helped create the most religiously pluralistic nation in the world. Let's hope the United States continues to embrace this freedom by keeping the wall of separation firmly in place.