Government by Treaty/The Threat to Freedom of Worship

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3053262Government by Treaty — The Threat to Freedom of WorshipWilliam H. Fitzpatrick

The first amendment to the United States Constitution—article I of the Bill of Rights—reads in part:

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof: * * *"

Those words are the cornerstone of freedom of worship in the United States; under their protection Protestant, Catholic, Jew, Christian Scientist, Hindu, and Moslem have been secure in their right and desire to worship their God as they chose. Agnostic and atheist have been equally secure in their right to question or to disbelieve.

Those words are unequivocal, given to no other judicial interpretation through the years than these:

The Congress can establish no state religion; and

The Congress is prohibited from interfering with religious worships or beliefs.

After the United States Constitution had been ratified by the States, fear of a strong centralized government arose. The Bill of Rights was written to allay these fears. But the prohibition against Government interference in religious worship did not lead the list of freedoms in the Bill of Rights by accident.

Freedom of worship was deep-rooted in the history and mores of the people, for those who believed in freedom of worship had helped found the country. It was a desire for religious freedom that brought the Pilgrims to Plymouth Rock, William Penn's Quakers to Pennsylvania, and Lord Baltimore's Catholics to Maryland more than a century before George Mason wrote the Bill of Rights.

This freedom of worship which Americans have recognized as the right of each individual is endangered by the Draft Covenant of Human Rights.

Paragraph 2 of article 13 of the Covenant on Human Rights reads:

"Freedom to manifest one's religion or beliefs shall be subject only to such limitations as are pursuant to law and are reasonable and necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals, or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others."

What effect will this have if this covenant is ratified by the Senate as a treaty? A treaty accepted by two-thirds of the Senators present becomes the law of the land. If the Supreme Court validates this treaty, it can nullify the religious freedom in the Bill of Rights.

The Committee for Peace and Law through the United Nations of the American Bar Association said in a report last September 20 the effects also would be these:

"We are confronted with a concept of the freedom of religion embracing the free use of limitations reasonable and necessary to protect public safety, order, health, morals, or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others. The purported agreement of church and state in Hungary is an example of religion under state regulation and control for public safety and order.

"The people of the United States are asked to approve those restrictions for others on the assurance that perhaps they will not apply in the United States. The persecuted brethren of any religious group in any country dominated by the Soviet shall be assured that such persecutions are legal and proper under a covenant on human rights because the public safety and order of their state demand such protective action. Is this the message we shall send to persecuted worshippers in other lands?

"Today, when an atheistic ideology of great power and proportions confronts the religious groups of the world, an organ of the United Nations presents the doctrine of state regulation of religion, a codification of the right of regulation, and complete destruction of the freedom of religion if laws based on alleged public safety and order of the state shall so provide."

For this danger to religion, among other reasons, the American Bar Association at its September meeting condemned the covenant in the following resolution:

"Resolved, That the American Bar Association is of the opinion that the Draft International Covenant on Human Rights as prepared at the March–May 1950 session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights is not in such form nor of such content as to be suitable for approval and adoption by the General Assembly of the United Nations, or for ratification by the United States of America."