Religious Liberty

Religious Liberty is the absolute freedom of religious opinion and worship based upon the fact that all men are bound by the laws of God and are responsible to him. From this primary and supreme obligation the conscience cannot be freed, and hence no human government has a right to hinder any form of religion, nor to support any to the injury of others. This implies the equality of all churches, religious associations, or persons in the matter of protection or restraint by the civil powers. We must not confound religious liberty, with religious toleration, for the latter is the assumption of the right by civil process to regulate religious affairs; and to permit implies the.right to prevent., This severance of spiritual and civil affairs- is emphatically taught by our Lord: "My kingdom is not of this world" (Joh 18:36). A distinctive American principle of government is that what is religious is necessarily, from its very character, beyond the control of the civil government. In the United States, therefore, religious liberty is an absolute personal right. All denominations, churches, and religious faiths are equal and free in the eye of the law, none receiving gratuities, none subjected to inequalities. There is, thus, an entire divorce of Church and State. The Constitution of the United States contains these two articles: "No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States;" and "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." The state constitutions are equally emphatic, and generally more specific in the expression of their jealousy of ecclesiastical ambition and sectarian intolerance. This example was set by Rhode Island, which has the honor of being the first state in the world to incorporate in its organic law, and to practice, absolute religious liberty. Under the influence of this American principle of government much change has been wrought in other countries. Toleration is becoming general, and the tendency is towards unrestrained liberty of worship. France bestows patronage upon several denominations; Germany, though claiming the management of ecclesiastical affairs, interferes but little with the right of worship. In Russia, Spain, and Italy there is less of former exclusiveness, and in the two latter countries different forms of faith are entitled to protection. Under English rule the colonies enjoy perfect religious liberty; the Anglican Church has been disestablished in Ireland, and there is in Great Britain no public position, not ecclesiastic, for the tenure of which a particular religious belief is required, except the throne and governorship of a few colleges. The connection of Church and State is increasingly regarded as corrupting to the Church, destructive of the purity and spirituality of religion, ard antagonistic to the rights of men. See Brook, History of Religious Liberty; Madison, Memorial and Remonstrance; Wayland, Discourses.

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