This year marked the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s nailing of the principles of religious freedom on the church door at Wittenberg, Germany, a small symbolic act which fanned the freedom of thought worldwide. He was not a typical priest, so his simple act of religious defiance was the spark which led to the Reformation. Two and a half centuries later, an American Revolution against religious prosecution led to the founding of our nation.

Luther believed he was returning what he saw as a moribund Catholic Church to the underlying principle of the Bible: a one-to-one relationship between Christians and the God of creation, uninhibited by the intermediary of formal structure. Among his favorite passages was from Galatians 5:1: “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.”

Indeed. Our colonial leaders said the same in the eloquence of the Declaration, placing before a “candid world” the reasons why America should be free of Great Britain’s heavy hand. The right of freedom was not something Americans had to create. It was a gift from God as our Founding Fathers also believed. “A republic, if you can keep it,” said Benjamin Franklin when asked what form of government the delegates had created. If he were alive today, I think Franklin would be pleased to see us doing our best to “keep it.”

The Founding Fathers weren’t saints nor were they forming a theocratic state. They were ordinary men — some religious and some not so much — but they shared a common belief that perpetual faith was and would remain a guidepost on our national journey. Some years ago, U.S. Secretary of Education William Bennett compiled a short collection of inspirational quotes from our Founding Fathers, entitled “Our Sacred Honor.” It’s a great Christmas present for anyone, particularly for our youth. It deals with timeless virtues such as courage, truthfulness, honesty, humility and yes, piety. What a great set of principles for us all, public servants alike, Republicans and Democrats.

We mark a continuing journey again this year in Idaho, in a time of national discord and seemingly endless hostility and rancor. We are blessed to live in a state which, it seems to me, has less of this than many other states. Unfortunately, the media brings out areas of disagreement with regularity. In Idaho we seem less touched by the strife. We should give thanks for that not-so-small blessing with Christ’s birth fast upon us tonight with a New Year beginning with optimism in Idaho.

As the new session approaches, all of us legislators are thinking about how we each and together can make Idaho an even greater and freer place to live, work and raise our children and grandchildren. This week, we keep in mind the eloquent words of our favorite carols and passages, how an “angel of the Lord” came to the shepherds of the field and told them not to be “sore afraid,” because unto them had been born that night a “Savior who is Christ the Lord” to bring peace to all men on Earth.

We legislators do not all agree on the details of human affairs. Partisan differences and sometimes raucous debate can anger and divide even the most sanguine of members. But we are all in this together. Are we not all striving to make Idaho even freer, even more resourceful, and more entrepreneurial than our long history shows? It’s been quipped that neither man, nor God, nor the beasts of the field are safe so long as a Legislature is in session. Perhaps true elsewhere, but not here. Generally, we do the right thing, sometimes more than once, in the laws we pass.

My good fellow members in the minority party don’t always see issues as I do. Neither do my good fellow members of the “right wing” faction within my own party. But out of this usually civil discourse come steps forward in Idaho’s governance, laws and public policies. That’s why my colleagues and I continue to work daily on behalf of our citizens, children, and their children. I am honored and privileged to represent you, my fellow citizens, Idahoans and Americans, again in this wonderous process of citizen government.

Merry Christmas to you all!

Stephen Hartgen of Twin Falls represents District 24 in the Idaho House of Representatives.

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