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The First Amendment of the United States Constitution states, “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.”
By Nate Hansen
Larson Newspapers
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The First Amendment of the United States Constitution states, “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.”

Drafted by James Madison, modified by the first U.S. Congress, the words of the First Amendment were inspired by the religious persecution of America’s founders in their countries of origin.

In response to the abuses directed at them, they chose to flee and establish a country founded in part on their belief in the freedom of worship.

Churches and religious institutions benefit greatly from First Amendment protections, including tax-free status

and other government-sanctioned advantages.

Next week, people will have the opportunity to judge whether or not some of those sects have pushed religious freedom too far — or is such a thing possible?

Monday, Nov. 20, the Sedona International Film Festival & Workshop will present a screening of the controversial documentary, “Jesus Camp.”

The film follows in the footsteps of Aaron Russo’s, “America: Freedom to Fascism,” which asked Sedona audiences to think about another of the country’s sociopolitical issues, thanks to the SIFF screening of the film earlier this year.

“Jesus Camp,” a film directed and produced by Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, gives a passive look into the world of born-again Christian children and their recruitment into America’s political agenda.

The filmmakers follow a group of Evangelical Christians who insist their children assume leadership roles, touting them as soldiers in “God’s army.”

Boys and girls as young as 6 years old listen to gospel spoken by adults in order to promote a Christian faith upon which they believe America was founded.

Children, who are home-schooled under anti-evolutionary Christian curriculums, are trained to pass on the word of Jesus Christ in order to combat non-Christian denominations.

“[The film] definitely provokes a lot of emotion,” Ewing says. “It provokes fear, anger, and in some cases, exhilaration … it doesn’t leave anyone cold.”

Although there are comments that depict the imaginary character of Harry Potter as a “warlock,” Ewing and Grady defend the Evangelicals as the U.S. Constitution should defend everyone.

“Militaristic terms are certainly brought up, but I don’t think they’d think ‘radical’ and ‘extremist’ seem negative,” Ewing says. “They definitely believe in a Christian nation.”

In one particular portion of the film, Pastor Ted Haggard of the New Life Church in Colorado Springs, Colo., speaks about the growing popularity of Evangelical megachurches throughout the United States.

He says a new church of this kind sprouts up every two days, adding that the growing congregations will eventually determine the voice of America.

“If the Evangelicals vote,” he says. “They determine the election.”

On Nov. 3, Haggard, a leading spokesman against homosexuality and same-sex marriage, resigned from his pastoral duties and leadership with the National Association of Evangelicals.

He left after allegations from former prostitute, Mike Jones, who suggested Haggard had paid for monthly sexual encounters during a three-year period.

Jones also accused Haggard of using methamphetamine.

Considering Haggard’s motivational speaking and preaching has moved youth to follow in his footsteps, there is increased speculation on the intent behind these directives.

He has preached one thing, and practiced another. What will his students do?

Under the First Amendment, whether somebody is Jewish, Buddhist, Mormon, Protestant, Catholic or Muslim, they

are granted the right to practice their beliefs without oppression.

The Evangelicals, on the other hand, are determined to convert anyone and everyone into “God’s army,” so the film depicts, and the subjects agree.

After watching Ewing and Grady’s film, several questions will remain and it’s up to the people to find those answers for themselves.

Will people interpret freedom of religion to pertain to all sects, or will they perceive the intention as dealing with Christianity only?

Will people exercise their freedoms to promote beliefs, or will they exercise freedoms to suppress what they fear?

Either way, after viewing the film Monday evening, people will walk away sure of two things.

They will find comfort seeing a film where the protagonist unfolds without a creator’s biased narration and they will discover Sedona is growing with more cultural depth and breadth by being faced with films that provoke dialogue.

It’s often said, in order to mix in good company one should never discuss politics, religion or sex.

The Sedona International Film Festival’s Cinema Series has teased the taboo with the two former. Will it attempt the latter?


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