The fascinating history of religious liberty in America should be required study by all citizens of the world. In the formation of viable republican governments, declarations are made, documents are drawn up and signed. These contain the written intentions of those who choose to be governed in a free society. Prior to the creation of the United States Constitution our local states had made provision for religious liberty and the protection of the conscience in their respective constitutions. They understood, at least partially, that religious liberty, the exercise of conscience, was a God-given human right and duty, owed to the “Creator”1 and “Almighty God.”2
Recognizing the same, Thomas Paine, in his book The Rights of Man, defends the constitutional attempts of France and America to guarantee human rights. He suggests this humbling thought:
“The error of those who reason by precedents drawn from antiquity, respecting the rights of man, is that they do not go far enough into antiquity. They do not go the whole way. They stop in some of the intermediate stages of an hundred or a thousand years,…but if we proceed on, we shall at last come out right: we shall come to the time when man came from the hand of his maker. What was he then? Man. Man was his high and only title, and a higher cannot be given him.”3
But let us ever remember our Creator “God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image.’ So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them.”4 Here we clearly see the official Word about the relationship between God and man. Man is to find his existence as “in the image of God.” It is to be a close relationship – based on heaven originated love and companionship with the power to choose.
Unfortunately, from antiquity until the present time, man has not been content to commune with his Creator or be just “man,” but instead, to “be as gods,”5 “like the most high,”6 like “so many gods.”7 And so, this stubborn, pitiful ambition has brought forth a parade of despotic men in “holy” garb who have pretended to lord over mankind, thundering anathemas from atop their earthly thrones, and seeking to crush the consciences of men and women.
In stark contrast, the Holy Writ testify that the Almighty God is the Creator and the Supreme Lord of all things: “The Lord has established His throne in heaven; And His sovereignty rules over all.” “Worthy art Thou, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for Thou didst create all things, and because of thy will they existed and were created.” Psalm 103:19; Revelation 4:11.
An inspired writer on this subject explains in detail:
“Our first parents, though created innocent and holy, were not placed beyond the possibility of wrong doing. God made them free moral agents, capable of appreciating the wisdom and benevolence of his character and the justice of his requirements, and with full liberty to yield or to withhold obedience.” Accordingly, “to deprive man of the freedom of choice would be to rob him of his prerogative as an intelligent being, and make him a mere automation. It is not God’s purpose to coerce the will. Man was created a free moral agent.”8
Mankind’s moral conscience is not a mere mechanical device nor can it be compared to anything in the animal kingdom. Joseph Baldwin tries to explain it this way:
“Moral laws regulate the moral universe just as physical laws regulate the physical universe…. Conscience is to the moral universe what gravity is to the world of matter…. Conscience is the law-obeying energy of the soul.”9
And so it should be evident that God has given man a conscience. God never forces this conscience. God alone should control the mind, but only if man so chooses to let Him. God’s Government appeals to our conscience. His holy laws confront it. Yet in all this, man busy’s himself in vain efforts to misinterpreting God’s requirements so as not to disturb the conscience God has given him. Still, God’s commandments of love and protection continue to come home to our conscience, especially when Christ is beheld on the cross of Calvary. God’s Word then strives to arouses the conscience, even impresses that conscience to work under His loving bonds. God lovingly designed that each of us shall use his or her conscience to not only to benefit our own life, but others around us. What a blessed gift – a holy, free conscience at peace with God.
Both moral laws and moral powers originate from God, but the violation of the conscience causes the loss of moral power. Once moral power is weakened, the conscience is benumbed. But God’s law lovingly pursues the conscience still, convicting and convincing the mind of the need of the Savior. Men and women with weakened characters, who are in positions of political leadership, are always a risk to the security of religious freedom because they have abandoned a law of God. In this weakness, man will seek to compel another man’s conscience; man will think to force another man’s will, but God has appointed no man to be another’s conscience. Those who carry out this type of program of control, are doing Satan’s work on earth. A person who seeks this program, places himself above God – a dangerous place to be and clearly recognized by our Founding Fathers.
Therefore the right of every man to worship God according to their own conscience is a right, given by God himself out His unfathomable love for us. Our American founders were able to grasp these basic concepts by the inspiration of the Spirit of God and laid the corner stone of religious liberty so that you and I can have the other freedoms we cherish so much.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” – Declaration of Independence, July 4, 1776
“Our legislators are not sufficiently appraised of the rightful limits of their power; that their true office is to declare and enforce only our natural rights and duties, and to take none of them from us…. The idea is quite unfounded, that on entering into society we give up any natural right.” – Thomas Jefferson, in Letter to Francis W. Gilmer, June 7, 1816.
“Those rights, then, which God and nature have established, and are therefore called natural rights, such as are life and liberty, need not the aid of human laws to be more effectually invested in every man than they are; neither do they receive any additional strength when declared by the municipal laws to be inviolable. On the contrary, no human legislature has the power to abridge or destroy them.” – Blackstone, in Blackstone’s Commentaries.
“‘The equal right of every citizen to the free exercise of his religion, according to the dictates of conscience,’ is held by the same tenure with all our other rights. If we recur to it origin, it is equally the gift of nature; if we weigh its importance, it cannot be less dear to us…. Either, then, we must say that the will of the legislature is the only measure of their authority, and that in the plenitude of that authority they may sweep away our fundamental rights, or that they are bound to leave this particular right untouched and sacred.” – Writings of James Madison, Vol I, p. 162 et seq.
“The great and direct end of government is liberty. Secure our liberty and privileges, and the end of government is answered. If this be not effectually done, government is an evil.” – Patrick Henry, in Elliot’s Debates on the Federal Constitution, Vol. III, p.53 et seq., 651.
“The American Constitution, in harmony with the people of the several States, withheld from the Federal Government the power to invade the home of reason, the citadel of conscience, the sanctuary of the soul; and not from indifference, but that the infinite Spirit of eternal truth might move in its freedom and purity and power.” – George Bancroft, History of the United States.
“Condemn no man for thinking as you think. Let every one enjoy the full and free liberty of thinking for himself. Let every man use his own judgment, since every man must give an account of himself to God. Abhor every approach, in any kind or degree, to the spirit of persecution. If you cannot reason nor persuade a man into truth, never attempt to force a man to it. If love will not compel him to come, leave him to God, the Judge of all.” – John Wesley.
“If all mankind, minus one, were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind.” – John Stuart Mill, Essay On Liberty, chap. 2, par. 1.
“Our reliance is in the love of liberty which God has planted in us. Our defense is in the spirit which prizes liberty as the heritage of all men, in all lands everywhere. Destroy this spirit, and you have planted the seeds of despotism at your own doors. Familiarize yourself with the chains of bondage, and you prepare your own limbs to wear them. Accustomed to trample on the rights of others, you have lost the genius of your own independence, and become the fit subjects of the first cunning tyrant who rises among you.” – Abraham Lincoln, Speech at Edwardsville, Illinois, Sept. 13, 1858.
Religious Liberty Wisdom
“The man convinced against his will, is of the same opinion still”
1 Francis Newton Thorpe, The Federal and State Constitutions, vol. VII, p. 3814, 1909 ed.
2 Ibid.,vol, V, p. 3082.
3 Thomas Paine, Rights of Man, pp. 33, 34. 1942 ed.
4 Genesis 1:26, 27, NRSV
5 Genesis 3:5. KJV
6 Isaiah 14:14 KJV
7 “Innocent III has written: ‘Indeed, it is not too much to say that in view of the sublimity of their offices the priests are so many gods.” Alphonsus Ligouri, Dignity and Duties of the Priest, p. 36
8 Ellen G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets, pp. 48 and 331-332
9 Joseph Baldwin, Psychology Applied to the Art of Teaching, pp. 264-266