Congress 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 grievances.
I think it's worth noting that the original wording of the First Amendment proposed by the Senate on March 9, 1789, is that "Congress shall not make any law establishing any religious denomination." The second version stated "Congress shall make no law establishing any particular denomination." Notice the nuanced difference. For the Founders, the terms "religion" and "denomination" are interchangeable. As a writer, I can appreciate why they would leave one and not both. It would have been redundant in their eyes to have both!
Fisher Ames, the Founding Father who offered the version we now know as the First Amendment, wrote in an 1801 magazine article that he was concerned that the Bible might eventually take a backseat in the classroom: "Why then, if these new books for children must be retained, as they will be, should not the Bible regain the place it once held as a school book?"
And he's the one who finalized that Congress shall not make a ruling on religion!
I respect the protestors' First Amendment rights to free speech and assembly - but their argument should be directed to the government, not the Church. And even then, the people. voted. twice. on. this. Against every odd they stacked against us. Their reaction is so irrational!
Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should "make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," thus building a wall of separation between Church & State. Adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.
While a few of the Framers were religious skeptics, most were committed churchmen - and even the skeptics appreciated religion's power to promote civic virtue. The question was, how to bring such power to bear? Some delegates argued for a mild religious test, requiring officeholders to embrace mainstream Christianity.
Experience had shown, however, that religious tests, however mild, had the effect of cementing an official tie between church and state. Several of the Framers regarded such a tie as desirable. No republican society, they argued, could succeed without some official religion. But most of the delegates took the opposite view. Official religion worked two kinds of mischief, they said. It opened the way for the official church to corrupt the political system, and conversely opened the way for the political system to corrupt the official church. Those delegates representing states where a religious establishment still persisted could testify to the baneful effects.
By prohibiting a religious test, the Framers aimed not to destroy the influence of religion on politics but to purify it. The theory went something like this. All believers, now lacking any official capacity, were welcome to exert their influence on govermnet in any way they saw fit - just as any citizens were. And since no denomination stood to gain by the way of patronage, the motives of all must be relatively pure. The only real message a church might have under the Constitution would be to urge integrity, responsibility and a sacralized civic virtue.
Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked: Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice ? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.