The AMERICAN BIRTHRIGHT of RELIGIOUS LIBERTY, 1909

GREAT QUESTIONS OF THE HOUR

The AMERICAN BIRTHRIGHT of RELIGIOUS LIBERTY

Abstract of an address delivered before the House of Representatives, Jefferson City, Missouri, by Mrs. Lulu Wightman, on April 13th, 1909.

A well-established principle in this country is that of the right and purpose of civil government to deal with, and to legislate upon, civil questions alone. The function of government is to preserve order in society and to protect all its subjects in the inalienable right to worship as they will, and against all incivility.

Morality must be rendered to God; civility to the state. To punish crime is the duty of the civil power; to punish sin, and define the religious duties of man is alone the prerogative of Deity.

As Washington said, “In proportion as the structure of government gives force to public opinion, it is essential that public opinion should be enlightened.” The father of his country urged the promotion of institutions for the general diffusion of knowledge, realizing how, in the last analysis of the question of government, public opinion played the most important part. It is as essential that public opinion be enlightened today as in any period of the world’s history, for human liberty and human rights—their perpetuity—rests upon the proper and continual education of the masses, the “eternal vigilance” of a free and enlightened people. When our government was founded, it was distinctly and generally recognized that religion was “not in the purview of human government,” and that earthly governments are interdicted “from intermeddling with religious institutions,” and upon these principles of civil government, such of the framers of the Constitution as Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Adams, Franklin, and others, agreed.

It is Roger Williams, though, America’s Luther, to whom we owe more, perhaps, than any other man, or number of men, for the enunciation of the true principles of government and the final inauguration of the American system of jurisprudence.

Coming to New England in 1631, he found a system of government equally as bad, if not worse, than the church-and-state form of government from which he had fled in old England. He found that a civil magistrate could not hold an office unless he was a member of the Puritan church and religion. He found the civil power of the Massachusetts Bay Colony enforcing religious institutions and tenets of faith upon its citizens.

Steadily, with unchanging purpose, the man destined by God to inaugurate a movement which was to result in “a new order of things,” opposed the principle of religious legislation. He took every opportunity to teach the true principles of civil government, of civil and religious liberty. Every practice of the Puritans opposed itself to the great principle of religious liberty, which Williams was continually teaching. Though tolerated for a time, ere long the contest came. Turned away from the Salem church, Williams was at last summoned to appear before the General Court at Boston and answer for his crimes.

“No charges were preferred against his personal piety. None could be brought. The spotless purity of his unstained, unsullied, and unselfish soul stood out in bold relief against the leaden sky of religious despotism.”Yet forth from that grim court posing as the tribunal of God on earth issued the charges; the leading charge, in brief, that Williams had declared that all men were entitled to religious liberty!

On one side the court, representing the whole power of the government and the people, both the civil and the ecclesiastical authorities; on the other side, Williams, the one lone defender of a great principle, the principle long ago uttered by the Nazarene—”Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.

“The future of Rhode Island, to some extent of the whole world, hangs suspended on the issue. Will he, like his church, worn out and desperate, blenching before the unknown, lose heart and yield? Never. He stands unshaken in that ‘rockie strength ‘ of his convictions. He is ready not only to be bound and banished, but to die for them.”—Chief Justice Durfee.

Williams’ unanswerable arguments, his courageous stand, and noble battle for eternal truth, had no weight with the intolerant members of the court. October 6, 1635, he was convicted, and sentenced to banishment! Later, his return to England was ordered. Rather than be returned to England, and hopelessly give up his cherished plan of establishing a colony of freedom, an asylum for the oppressed, Williams, in the month of January, 1636, bade farewell to his wife and children, and disappeared amidst the wintry, wind-swept forests, out into the wild wastes of New England, where redskins and wild beasts were the sole inhabitants! He fled from the savage Christians of Massachusetts Bay Colony and found refuge with the Christian savages of Narragansett. And at Providence, R. I., irrepressible champion of “soul liberty,” of civil rights, founded the first free commonwealth of the New World,—an asylum for the conscience-oppressed of every kindred and nation and tongue and people; “a state where none shall persecution fear.”

But the great work begun “in forests drear,” did not end there. The doctrines, the principles, advocated by Roger Williams, spread to all parts of the colonies, and molded public opinion, until at last they crystalized, or centralized, if you please, into that immortal document called the DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE, which declares that “all men are created equal,” and are endowed by their Creator “with certain inalienable rights,” and that among these RIGHTS are “life, LIBERTY, and the pursuit of happiness.” Not until 133 years ago was the great Declaration made; not until then had the principles of civil and religious liberty been sounded by an assembly of men! The history of government had been the history of slavery and oppression, of despotism and aristocracy; of oligarchy, nobility and kings; serf, vassal, subject; tyranny, misrule, and caste! All this quickly reversed; and now there comes into the world’s history that new and just form of government declaring its just powers to be derived “from the consent of the governed.” That Declaration was of itself a revolution, not in force of arms or field of battle, but a revolution in the field of thought. That Declaration gave birth to the Republic. Of the American Charter of Human Rights,—the Constitution of the United States—Gladstone has said: “It is the most perfect instrument ever struck off by the hand of man at a single stroke.” That document contains no reference to the Christian or any other religion. Although most of the patriotic founders of this Republic were deeply religious men, they carefully refrained from inserting the name of God in the Constitution. Indeed, the farthest thing from their minds was to incorporate the Christian religion into the fundamental law of the land.

In reference to this very subject, George Washington, with his own hand, wrote into the Treaty of Tripoli in 1797: “The United States Government is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.” In the opinion of the framers of the Constitution, the strongest guarantee of the perpetuity of American institutions consisted in the absolute divorcement of church and state, and they took every precaution that was humanly possible to make this idea the key-note of American liberty. The first amendment to the Constitution which says:”Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” is an absolute disavowal of any intention to allow any legislation upon questions that are essentially and distinctly religious. Every important American state paper is a positive disclaimer to the theory of “the Christian nation,” or the right of the civil power to legislate upon religious questions.

From the signing of the Declaration of Independence, and the adoption of the Constitution, to the year 1829, our nation remained free from the domination, and the attacks and influences, of organized churches and religions in civil matters.

Over half a century the national idea—and government—proceeded in the pathway of destiny without a word of complaint or expressed dissatisfaction as to its form and its fundamental law, upon the part of religionists.

Then an innovation was sought, and specious was the plea for its introduction into the affairs of civil government. Petitions came pouring into the United States Senate asking that body to enact a law that would close the post offices, and forbid the carrying of the mails upon the post-roads “upon the Sabbath day”; upon “the first day of the week, commonly called Sunday.”

History records the fact that all religious intolerance and despotism begins with the legal enforcement of a particular rest day upon the people. It was so in dark and medieval days. It was equally true in early New England history. Sunday laws, from the time of the Emperor Honorius to the history of our own country, are always the entering wedges for a union of the church and the state; a precedent for religious legislation of any sort, and of every kind ; and unreasoning bigotry and legal intolerance invariably make use of these with which to persecute the conscientious and unyielding minority. Col. Richard M. Johnson was the chairman of the Committee on Post-offices and Post-Roads, to whom these petitions were referred. Among other statements, Mr. Johnson said:

“Extensive religious combinations to effect a political object are, in the opinion of the committee, always dangerous. This first effort of the kind [Sunday legislation] calls for the establishment of a principle which, in the opinion of the committee, would lay the foundation for dangerous innovations upon the spirit of the Constitution, and upon the religious rights of the citizens. If admitted, it may be justly apprehended that the future measures of the government will be strongly marked, if not eventually controlled, by the same influence. All religious despotism commences by combination and influence; and when that influence begins to operate upon the political institutions of a country, the civil power soon bends under it; and the catastrophe of other nations furnishes an awful warning o fthe consequence.”

The next year, 1830, the petitioners again applied to Congress—this time to the House of Representatives—for the same Sunday legislation. Again Colonel Johnson replied to those who had assumed “a position better suited to an ecclesiastical than to a civil institution”:

” If a solemn act of legislation shall, in one point, define the law of God, or point out to the citizen one religious duty, it may, with equal propriety, proceed to define every part of divine revelation, and enforce every religious obligation, even to the forms and ceremonies of worship, the endowment of the church, and the support of the clergy.”

No other steps were taken to influence, and finally control, the government until in 1863, when an organization was formed at Zenia, Ohio, called the “Christian Council,” afterward reorganized at Philadelphia, Pa., in 1875, and changing its name to THE NATIONAL REFORM ASSOCIATION, having for its avowed purpose the amending of the National Constitution that “all Christian laws, institutions, and usages may be placed upon an undeniable legal basis in the fundamental law of the land.”This object is agreeable to another great religious organization of our land also—the American Sabbath Union. And there is still another, and later, and more powerful organization than all these; namely, the Federation of Churches, numbering thirty-six denominations and representing 19,000,000 communicants, whose expressed purpose is “to secure a larger combined influence for the churches of Christ in all matters affecting the moral and social conditions of the people, so as to promote the application of the law of Christ in every relation of human life.”

In every utterance at both its New York and Philadelphia councils, in the years 1905 and 1908, the Conference plainly evinces the purpose and design to influence and control the”lawmakers,”—the political bodies and the civil power,—that in the civic life there may be “the application of the law of Christ.” The purposes of all these means the conquest of the civic in the interest of the religious. All these great organizations will unite in the common cause of demanding, and securing, the power of the strong arm of the civil state to enforce religious dogmas and institutions upon the people. First of all these will be Sunday observance, the sure stepping-stone for religious legislation and an organic or inorganic union of church and state. Patrick Henry said: “We have no sufficient means of judging the future but by the past.” In the fourth century, great church federations tried the same plan: they, too, endeavored to establish the kingdom of Christ on the earth, and incorporate the moral law in the civil law of the land; but, instead of this, they ushered in the kingdom of tyranny and religious despotism.

If the church may presume to call upon the civil power to enforce a spiritual Sabbath day upon all alike, if it may coerce the state to select and fix upon a particular day of the week, and enforce its observance, it may also impel the state to select the faith to which all must subscribe, the mode of baptism by which all should be baptized, and, in fact, determine every detail of religious faith and practise. There is no escape from these conclusions; and what is more, every government that has taken the first step—that of Sabbath legislation—has, sooner or later, taken all other steps in religious legislation, and in punishing individuals for non-observance of religious duties has invariably reached the last of all penalties known to criminal law—the death penalty! Such, in brief, is the logic of Sabbath legislation. In recent developments in nearly all of the American states,—an almost universal demand upon the part of organized churches, ministerial alliances, and religious organizations for stricter legal Sabbath observance, or civil Sabbath laws, and severer penalties for an infringement of this religious law—we see the first steps of an ecclesiastical oligarchy of power. What will be the last? Will the Republic listen to the siren voice of the destroyer and, cutting loose from its ancient moorings, turn back to the hateful paths of despotism? Will it deny the sacred principles of religious liberty, whose first purchase-price was the blood of the minutemen of Lexington? Or, like a political rock of Gibraltar, stand fast upon the fundamental principles of its being, continuing in its “manifest des-tiny ” of the apostle-nation of political and religious freedom forever?

GREAT QUESTIONS OF THE HOUR
BY LULU WIGHTMAN
EVANGELIST AND ADVOCATE OF CIVIL AND RELIGIOUS LIBERTY
Price 25 Cents

http://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=mdp.39015068642324;page=root;view=text;size=100;seq=1

www-news.uchicago.edu/releases/08/video/080514.ryerson.mov.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: