Freedom – Chapter 4

Chapter IV


All should be free to guess at the unknown.

Tyranny is as bad in God’s name as it is in man’s name.

Error needs authority to back it, truth can vindicate itself.

It is much easier to uphold the old than to initiate the new.

To be dictated to by other than your own reason is to be a mental slave.

To enact a religious law is to institute a process of persecution.

Most sects complain of being persecuted when weak, then practice it upon others when strong.

To uphold religious legislation is to endanger your own religious liberty.

The orthodox mistrusts a new truth, as an Indian does a stranger.

Forcing opinions on others was tried for a thousand years and resulted in the dark ages.

Spiritual and ecclesiastical tyranny is as degrading as economic and political slavery.

Difference of opinion in religious matters is as mentally stimulating as difference in political matters.

“General agreement” is no evidence of truth, but usually indicates mental stagnation.

Religious Freedom has been upheld by some from Colonial days to the present time. State Constitutions have provided for it and our National Constitution declares emphatically that “Congress shall make no laws respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof’: * * *”


Notwithstading this provision, there are clergymen of the Protestant and Catholic Churches who are bitterly opposed to religious freedom and say so frankly, and are working constantly to abolish that freedom and bring about a union of church and state. Quotations from a few of them will show the opinions and general attitude of this class of clergymen.

Rev. J. W. Foster says: “The state and its sphere exist for the sake of and to serve the interests of the church.”

President Seelye, of Amherst College, said: “The state must teach religion. If its subjects approve, well -, if not, the state must not falter.”

The Rev. M. A. Gault tells us that: “It cost us all one Civil War to blot slavery out of the Constitution and it may cost us another war to blot out infidelity.”

The Rev. Dr. Edwards says: “We want a state religion, and we are going to have it. * * * It shall be revealed religion-the religion of Jesus Christ.”

The weekly paper, “The ‘Christian Reformer,” says: “The chief thing for us to do is to demolish the secular theory of government and reconstruct the constitution on a Christian theory.”

One more quotation from a frank authoritarian preacher will suffice for the representatives of the Protestant Church.

The Rev. Samuel Small says: “I want to see the day when the church shall be the arbiter of all legislation, national, state and municipal; when the great churches of the country can come together harmoniously and issue their edict, and the legislative powers respect it and enact it into law.”

It was ministers like these that Mr. Dooley had in mind when he said: “‘Tis a good thing preachers don’t go to Congress. Whin they’re ca’m they’d wipe out all the laws, an’ whin they’re excited, they’d wipe out all the popylation. They’re nivver two jumps fr’m th’ thumbscrew.”

This same position is held by some of the Catholic leaders. Cardinal Barronius says:
“God has made political government subject to dominion of the spiritual Roman Catholic Church.” The idea of toleration is abhorent to some of these representatives.

Bishop O’Connor says: “Religious liberty is merely endured until the opposite can be carried into effect without peril to the Roman Catholic Church.”

The open and frank animosity toward religious freedom is plainly stated by Mgr, Segur. He says: “The Church is certainly not tolerant in matters of doctrine. True, and we glory in it. * * * The freedom of thinking is simply nonsense.”

One more quotation from the Catholic side will suffice to show the reader what must be faced in the struggle for religious freedom that was supposed to have been established over a century ago.

The Catholic “Tablet” prints the following: “The Protestant is bound to be liberal to Catholics; but Catholics cannot be liberal to any party that rejects the Church.”

The foregoing writers are present day representatives of those who enacted the Blue Laws of Connecticut and Virginia. They voice the sentiment of the Puritan that whipped, branded and even killed Christian Quakers for a difference in religious belief.

This same class of intolerant Christians are behind the present Blue Law campaign, resolved to blot out all joy in life; to place in the straight jacket of Puritanism this Nation and its people, as they were in the days when Roger Williams was banished for his belief in religious liberty.

To take a greater liberty than you will grant to others is injustice. To express your opinion and deny that freedom to another is intellectual dishonesty.

To use force in matters of opinion is to assume that one can change convictions like clothes.

Compulsion in religious matters will make hypocrites out of cowards. Honest and courageous men will resist it. Those who are now attempting to force people to read the Bible should do a little reading themselves of history; they tried this sort of thing during the middle ages, and that period is known as the “Dark Ages.”

A law that upholds one kind of religion today will be used as a precedent to enforce another kind when a different group of fanatics get in power.

The preacher who resorts to force has lost confidence in his own and God’s power to convince. A man is supposed to be accountable to God alone, and yet we find many preachers trying to force the observance of Sunday on to unwilling people. Jesus said: “The Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath.” When the state enforces religious laws individual conscience is debauched and persecution and tyranny have been enacted. The worst of all governments is an ecclesiastical one. It is only a step from the belief that one’s opinions are infallible to the belief that they should be imposed-, as men cannot change their opinions at will; to use force to compel belief is to create fighters or frauds.

The intellectual hypocrite is the man who accepts popular beliefs that his reason despises and condemns. The man who fearlessly and truthfully sets forth his thoughts does a public service, and should be thanked, not persecuted for it. To be tolerant means to listen with respect to the positive and the negative sides of all questions. Religious teachers say that man has a free will to choose with. If this is true, what justification can there be in forcing men to worship? If God bestowed reason on man, was it not to be reasoned with? If this is not so, then we must conclude that God is going to reward men for being fools. To conceal what reason has brought to you is to discredit it and degrade yourself.

Condemnation will not convince a thinker that his opinion is wrong. Fortunately for freedom and for the church there are Christian Ministers who are tolerant, brave, honest, big-brained men who know that the other fellow does not differ from them more than they do from him, and that he has as much to tolerate as they have.

The following quotations are a few sayings of that band of liberty loving ministers:

“The union of church and state means the corruption of both.” – Dr. McGlynn.

“The principle of the persecution-to the extent of burning heretics-  is inseparable from the union of church and state.”-Rev. Phillip Schaff, D. D., LL.D.

“The mixing up of politics with religion, under any circumstances, is fraught with manifold and multiform dangers. There is no tyranny so cruel, no yoke so intolerable, as priestcraft when vested with temporal authority. More political atrocities, butcheries, crimes and enormities have been committed in the name and on account of religion than have arisen from any and all other causes combined.” – Bishop Venner.

“In his spiritual affairs every Roman Catholic holds allegiance to a foreign ecclesiastical power, His Holiness the Pope, but it is only in his spiritual affairs. In matters concerning his civil welfare, every Roman Catholic is as free as any other American citizen to act as his wisdom and conscience dictate.”-  Cardinal Gibbons.

The following is from the supreme head of the Knights of Columbus, delivered at a convention held in Seattle in 1915:

“While Catholics acknowledge the pope to be supreme in spiritual matters, they do not hold that he has any authority in civil matters. If any spiritual authority were to direct us to do any act contrary to the rights of free ciizens or the welfare of society, we would be bound to disobey.”

“A careful compilation of sectarian enactments teaches us that religious fanaticism and intolerance injected into politics have united church and state. There is not one of these enactments that may not one day be invoked against citizens who profess the Christian religion. The Adventists, Jews, Agnostics, the great body of the Rationalists at large, have not the “equal rights” guaranteed by the Constitution that Christians have.” –  “The Jewish Times.”

“The American nation was built upon the principle of full and complete liberty – religious and civil-and from the hour that Roger Williams quietly erected the grand foundation of mutual tolerance and equality in government, in early New England, religious freedom has been the most valued birthright of the American people. And only as this right continues, and is respected by, the populace, can the nation endure as a free republic.” – Rev. Lulu Wightman. .

The founders of this Republic were men who believed in the secular form of government. They were dealing with people who had, or were descendants of those who had, fled from religious tyranny in the old world. These great statesmen knew the only way to have religious peace and harmony was to provide religious liberty and the only way to guarantee that was to prevent all religious legislation. The warring sects must be denied a constitutional club to wield over each other. They must have equal freedom-not advantage over each other-so our fathers wrote into the constitutions of the states and Nation that there should be no religious legislation whatsoever. They knew the way to prevent persecution was to deny all power to compel conformity in religious matters.

Thomas Jefferson, the writer of the Declaration of Independence, said in a letter to the Rev. Millar: “I consider the government of the United States as interdicted by the Constitution from meddling with religious institutions, their doctrines, discipline, or exercises. * * * But it is only proposed that I should recommend, not prescribe, a day of feasting and praying. That is, I should indirectly assume to the United States an authority over religious exercises, which the Constitution has directly precluded from them. * * * Everyone must act according to the dictates of his own reason, and mine tells me that civil powers alone have been given to the President of the United States, and no authority to direct the religious exercises of his constituents.”

In his “Notes on Virginia” Jefferson tells why he is opposed to giving Christians power to persecute each other, or the nonbeliever. He says: “Millions of innocent men, women and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burned, tortured, fined and imprisoned, yet we have not advanced one inch towards uniformity. What has been the effect of coercion? To make one-half of the world fools and the other half hypocrites.”

In his argument in favor of the disestablishment of religion (“Notes on Virginia,” pp. 234-237), he sets forth numerous prosecutions and persecutions through certain religious laws of that state and he concludes that “Reason and persuasion are the only practical instruments. * * * It is error alone which needs the support of government.”

This was the attitude of our first President, the “Father of our Country,” George Washington. He was a staunch opponent of ecclesiastical tyranny. Soon after his first inauguration, in answer to an address presented by the Baptists of Virginia, he said:

“If I could have entertained the slightest apprehension that the Constitution, framed in the Convention when I had the honor to preside, might possibly endanger the religious rights of any ecclesiastical society, certainly I would never have placed my signature to it; and if I could now conceive that a general government might be so administered as to render the liberty of conscience insecure, I beg you will be persuaded that no one would be more zealous than myself to establish effectual barriers against the horrors of spiritual tyranny and every species of religious persecution.”

Like Jefferson, he was well aware of the need for toleration. He was made to feel the religious clash of his day, and in a letter written to Sir Edward N ewenham, dated October 20, 1792, he says: “Of all the animosities which have existed among mankind, those which are caused by a difference of sentiments in religion appear to be the most inveterate and distressing, and ought most to be deprecated. I was in hopes that the enlightened and liberal policy, which has marked the present age, would at least have reconciled Christians of every denomination so far that we should never again see their religious disputes carried to such a pitch as to endanger the peace of society.”

Washington replied to an address from the Quakers in this language: “Governments being, among other purposes, instituted to protect the consciences of men from oppression, it certainly is the duty of rulers, not only to abstain from it themselves, but, according to their stations, to prevent it in others.”

He did all he could to make this a secular government, and in his Treaty with Tripoli he stated it to be such. He says: “The Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded upon the Christian religion.”

Benjamin Franklin, the American diplomat and philosopher, took the same position as our early presidents did. Like the other great men, he knew of this religious intolerance that was to be provided against. In his article on “Toleration,” to be found in his works (vol. 2, p. 112), we read: “If we look back into history for the character of the present sects in Christianity, we shall find few that have not in their turns been persecutors, and complainers of persecution. The primitive Christians thought persecution extremely wrong in the Pagans, but practiced it on one another. The first Protestants of the Church of England blamed persecution in the Romish Church, but practiced it upon the Puritans. These found it wrong in the Bishops, but fell into the same practice themselves both here (England) and in New England.”

He, too, was opposed to all religious laws and had a very poor opinion of those who enacted them. In a letter to Dr. Price he had this to say of religious tests: “I think they were invented not so much to secure religion as the emoluments of it. When a religion is good, I conceive that it will support itself; and when it does not support itself, and God does not take care to support it, so that its professors are obliged to call for help of the civil power, ’tis a sign, I apprehend. of its being a bad one.”

James Madison, fourth President of the United States and delegate to the Continental Congress, like his great predecessors, was opposed to a union of church and state. When he was elected to the House of Delegates of Virginia, he was appointed a member of its committee on religion, and opposed all special privileges like the general assessment for the support of the churches of the state.

He defeated this latter measure.

And then on the 26th day of December, 1785, the Jefferson Bill for establishing religious freedom in Virginia, which had been introduced by Madison, was passed. One paragraph in it reads as follows: “To suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles on supposition of their ill tendency is a dangerous fallacy, which at once destroys all (religious) liberty; because he, being, of course, judge of that tendency, will make his (fallible) opinions the rule of judgment, and approve or condemn the sentiments of others, only as they shall square with or differ from his own. It is time enough for the rightful purposes of civil government for its officers to interfere when principles break out into overt acts against peace and good order. And, finally, that truth is great and will prevail, if left to herself. That she is the proper and sufficient antagonist to error, and has nothing to fear from the conflict unless by human interposition disarmed of her natural weapon, free argument and debate.” In one of his speeches Madison said:
“There is not a shadow of right in the general government to intermeddle with religion. Its interference with it would be a most flagrant usurpation.”

The same position was taken by the Senate, as shown by the following quotations from the United States Senate Report, 1829: “It is not in the legitimate province of the Legislature to determine what religion is true or false. Our Government is a civil and not a religious institution. Our Constitution recognizes in every man the right to choose his own religion. and to enjoy it freely without molestation. * * *
Whatever may be the religious sentiments of citizens, and however variant, they are alike entitled to protection from the government so long as they do not invade the rights of others.”

One of America’s greatest authorities on the Constitution has this to say on religious liberty, as an established fact in law:

“A careful examination of the American Constitution will disclose the fact that nothing is more fully set forth or more plainly expressed than the determination of their authors to preserve and perpetuate religious liberty, and to guard against the slightest approach toward the establishment of an inequality in the civil and political rights of citizens, which shall have for its basis only their differences of religious beliefs.”Judge Cooley in “Constitutional Limitations.”

Wendell Phillips, the abolitionist, said in one of his masterful orations: “How shall we ever learn toleration for what we do not believe? The last lesson a man ever learns is, that liberty of thought and speech is the right for all mankind; that the man who denies every article of our creed is to be allowed to preach just as often and just as loud as we ourselves. We have learned this-been taught it by persecution on the question of slavery. No matter whose the lips that would speak, they must be free and ungagged. Let us always remember that he does not really believe his own opinions who dares not give free scope to his opponent. Persecution is really want of faith in our creed. Let us see to it, my friends, Abolitionists, that we learn the lesson the whole circle round. Let us believe that the whole of truth cannot do harm to the whole of virtue. Trust it. And remember that, in order to get the whole of truth, you must allow every man, right or wrong, freely to utter his conscience, and protect him in so doing.”

Abraham Lincoln, the great emancipator and freedom martyr, was a believer in religious freedom, as well as other kinds of liberty. In the “Lincoln Memorial Album” (pp. 86-87) we read: “It is not much in the nature of man to be driven to anything, still less to be driven about that which is exclusively his own business. * * * When the conduct of men is designed to be influenced, persuasion, kind, unassuming persuasion, should ever be adopted.”

Lincoln was besieged by preachers with messages from God. He was told what to do about everything almost, but particularly what was to be done for the denomination represented. In the “Religious Convictions of Abraham Lincoln” is found this from that overburdened man: “I am approached with the most opposite opinions and advice, and by religious men who are certain they represent the Divine Will. * * * I hope it will not be irreverent in me to say that, if it be probable that God would reveal his will to others, in a point so connected with my duty, it may be supposed he would reveal it directly to me.”

Like the other great statesmen cited above, Lincoln was opposed to all religious meddling by the state. On this point he states the case very plainly. He says: “The United States Government must not undertake to run the churches. When an individual in a church, or out of it, becomes dangerous to the public interest he must be checked.” (Nicolay and Hay’s Life of Lincoln.)

President U. S. Grant was of the same opinion as the master minds that had preceded him. Much could be cited from him to show this, but one quotation will suffice. In his speech before the army of the Tennessee at Des Moines, in 1875, he said in part:

“Let us all labor to add all needful guarantees for the more perfect security of free thought, free spech, and free press, pure morals, unfettered religious sentiments, and of equal rights and privileges to all men, irrespective of nationality, color or religion. Encourage free schools, and resolve that not one dollar of money shall be appropriated to the support of any sectarian school. Resolve that neither the state nor nation, or both combined, shall support institutions of learning other than those sufficient to afford every child growing up in the land the opportunity of a good common school education, unmixed with sectarian, pagan or atheistical tenets. Leave the matter of religion to the family altar, the church, and the private schools, supported entirely by private contributions. Keep the church and the state forever separate.”

Difference of opinions in religious matters in no way threatens the peace or security of society, if they do not resort to law to enforce their opinions. To be just, the government must not take sides, but preserve a neutral attitude towards all disputants. Its function is to preserve order, not enforce some religious view. Any other attitude by the government leads to persecutions and religious wars. A union of church and state means an alliance between tyranny and hypocrisy.

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