The Union of Church and State in the United States

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THE RIGHTS OF THE PEOPLE

And this is briefly comprehended and nobly expressed in the following words of the Declaration of Independence:— UCS 4.1

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights governments are instituted among men deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed; that when any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute a new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.” UCS 4.2

Thus in two sentences was annihilated the despotic doctrine which, springing from the usurped authority of the Papacy to sit in the place of God, and to set up and pull down kings and to bestow kingdoms and empires at its arbitrary will, had become venerable, if not absolutely hallowed, by the precedents of a thousand years—the doctrine of the divine right of rulers: and in the place of the old, false, and despotic theory of the sovereignty of the government and the subjection of the people, there was declared, to all nations and for all time, the self-evident truth, the subjection of the government and the sovereignty of the people. UCS 4.3

This self-evident and unalterable truth of the supremacy of the rights of the people in government was set forth as the fundamental principle of the Government of the United States when the national Constitution was formed; for the preamble to that document announces that— UCS 4.4

We, the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquillity, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” UCS 5.1

And this truth became an established and everlasting fixture of this government, when the ninth and tenth amendments were adopted, for Article IX of Amendments says:— UCS 5.2

“The enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.” UCS 5.3

And Article X of Amendments says ----- UCS 5.4

The powers not delegated to the United States by this Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” UCS 5.5

It is, however, the rights of the people with respect to religion with which we have here particularly to deal, as religion is the subject of the Supreme Court decision and the acts of Congress that are to be noticed. UCS 5.6

The right of the people of the United States to be religious or not religious, each one for himself alone, without any notice or interference of the government in any way, is a natural, a constitutional, and a divine right. UCS 5.7

This natural right was one which was particularly considered in “the times of seventy-six,” and of the establishment of American independence. June 12, 1776, twenty-two days before the Declaration of Independence, a convention of the Colonial House of Burgesses, of Virginia, adopted a Declaration of Rights, composed of sixteen sections, every one of which, in substance, afterward found a place in the Declaration and the Constitution. The sixteenth section, in part, reads thus:— UCS 5.8

“That religion, or the duty which we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence, and therefore all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience.” UCS 6.1

July 4 following the Declaration of Independence was made, wherein this principle is embodied in the statement that “governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed.” UCS 6.2

Governments deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed can never of right exercise any power not delegated by the governed. Now religion, pertaining solely to man’s relationship to God, to the duty which man owes to his Creator, and the manner of discharging it, in the nature of things can never be delegated to another. UCS 6.3

It is utterly impossible for any person ever, in any degree, to transfer to another any of his relationship to God, or any duty which he owes to his Creator, or the manner of discharging that duty. Man’s relationship to God originates not with himself, but with the Lord; it springs not from himself but from the Lord. The duty which man owes to his Creator, and the manner of discharging it, spring not from himself, but from the Lord. These are not dictated nor defined by himself, but wholly by the Lord. Here man is subject not sovereign. None of these things then springing from himself, but all from the Lord, none of them could he delegate if he would. Even to attempt it would be only to deny God and renounce religion, and even then the thing would not be done—his relationship to God, the duty which he owes to his Creator, and the manner of discharging it, would remain, as firmly fixed and as binding upon himself as ever. Under the Declaration of Independence, therefore, the Government of the United States can never have anything to do with religion. UCS 6.4

This is precisely the view that was taken, and the use that was made, of the Declaration as soon as it was published to the world. For no sooner was the Declaration published abroad than the Presbytery of Hanover, in Virginia, openly took its stand with the new and independent nation, and, with the Baptists and Quakers, addressed to the General Assembly of Virginia a Memorial, from which we extract the following passages, as particularly pertinent to the matter here to be considered:— UCS 7.1

“Now, when the many and grievous oppressions of our mother country have laid this continent under the necessity of casting off the yoke of tyranny, and of forming independent governments upon equitable and liberal foundations, we flatter ourselves that we shall be freed from all the encumbrances which a spirit of domination, prejudice, or bigotry has interwoven with most other political systems. UCS 7.2

“This we are the more strongly encouraged to expect by the Declaration of Rights, so universally applauded for that dignity, firmness, and precision with which it delineates and asserts the privileges of society, and the prerogatives of human nature, and which we embrace as the Magna Charta of our commonwealth, that can never be violated without endangering the grand superstructure it was designed to sustain. Therefore we rely upon this Declaration, as well as the justice of our honorable Legislature, to secure us the free exercise of religion according to the dictates of our consciences. UCS 7.3

“In this enlightened age, and in a land where all of every denomination are united in the most strenuous efforts to be free, we hope and expect that our representatives will cheerfully con- cur in removing every species of religious as well as civil bondage. Certain it is that every argument for civil liberty gains additional strength when applied to liberty in the concerns of religion; and there is no argument in favor of establishing the Christian religion but may be pleaded, with equal propriety, for establishing the tenets of Mohammed by those who believe the Alcoran; or, if this be not true, it is at least impossible for the magistrate to adjudge the right of preference among the various sects which profess the Christian faith, without erecting a claim to infallibility, which would lead us back to the Church of Rome. UCS 7.4

“We beg leave farther to represent that religious establishments are highly injurious to the temporal interests of any community... We would also humbly represent that the only proper objects of civil government are the happiness and protection of men in the present state of existence; the security of the life, liberty, and property of the citizens, and to restrain the vicious, and encourage the virtuous, by wholesome laws, equally extending to every individual; but that the duty which we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can only be directed by reason and conviction, and is nowhere cognizable but at the tribunal of the Universal Judge. UCS 8.1

“Therefore, we ask no ecclesiastical establishments for ourselves; neither can we approve of them when granted to others. This indeed would be giving exclusive or separate emoluments or privileges to one set of men, without any special public services, to the common reproach and injury of every other denomination. And for the reasons recited, we are induced earnestly to entreat that all laws now in force in this commonwealth which countenance religious domination, may be speedily repealed; that all of every religious sect may be protected in the full exercise of their several modes of worship; exempted from all taxes for the support of any church whatsoever, farther than what may be agreeable to their own private choice or voluntary obligation. This being done, all partial and invidious distinctions will be abolished, to the great honor and interest of the State, and everyone be left to stand or fall according to his merit, which can never be the case so long as any one denomination is established in preference to others.” UCS 8.2

Thomas Jefferson supported the Memorial, and, after what he pronounced “the severest contest in which he was ever engaged,” a law was passed, December 6, 1776, totally disestablishing the Episcopalian Church in Virginia. Immediately following this a powerful effort was made to establish the Christian religion, without reference to any particular denomination, by levying a general tax for the support of teachers of the Christian religion. Against this also the Presbytery of Hanover, with the Baptists and Quakers, earnestly protested. Another Memorial was presented to the Assembly, in which attention was called to the principles laid down in the previous Memorial, and some additional arguments were made, of which the following passages are pertinent here:— UCS 9.1

“To illustrate and confirm these assertions, we beg leave to observe that, to judge for ourselves, and to engage in the exercise of religion agreeably to the dictates of our own consciences, is an inalienable right, which, upon the principles on which the gospel was first propagated, and the Reformation from Popery carried on, can never be transferred to another. ... In the fixed belief of this principle, that the kingdom of Christ and the concerns of religion are beyond the limits of civil control, we should act a dishonest, inconsistent part were we to receive any emoluments from human establishments for the support of the gospel.” UCS 9.2

Then, after reciting some of the evil consequences which must inevitably flow from such a condition of things, the Memorial closed with these weighty words:— UCS 9.3

“These consequences are so plain as not to be denied, and they are so entirely subversive of religious liberty that, if they should take place in Virginia, we should be reduced to the melancholy necessity of saying with the apostles in like cases, ‘Judge ye whether it is best to obey God or men,’ and also of acting as they acted. Therefore, as it is contrary to our princeples and interest, and, as we think, subversive of religious liberty, we do again most earnestly entreat that our Legislature would never extend any assessment for religious purposes to us, or to the congregations under our care.” UCS 9.4

By “strenuous efforts” this attempt to establish “the Christian religion” was defeated in 1779, though the bill reached the point where it was ordered to a third reading. The events of the war prevented any further attempt in this direction till the war was over. UCS 10.1

No sooner had peace returned, however, than a stronger effort than any before was made to accomplish this object, in an attempt to pass “A Bill Establishing a Provision for Teachers of the Christian Religion.” Patrick Henry led in favor of the bill. Jefferson and Madison led the opposition. It became evident that, in spite of all opposition, the bill would pass if it came to a vote. To escape this Jefferson and Madison succeeded in carrying a motion to postpone the whole subject to the next General Assembly, and meantime to have the bill printed and generally circulated. As soon as this motion had been carried, Madison wrote a Remonstrance, to be presented to the next General Assembly, against the bill. This Remonstrance was printed, and circulated, and discussed much more widely than was the bill which it opposed. It is one of the grandest public documents that ever was written. It ought to be learned by heart by every person in the United States. In this place we can quote but a few passages from it. And here they are:— UCS 10.2

“We remonstrate against the said bill— UCS 10.3

“1. Because we hold it for a fundamental and undeniable truth that religion, or the duty which we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence. The religion, then, of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate. This right is, in its nature, an unalienable right. It is unalienable because the opinions of men, depending only on the evidence contemplated in their own minds, cannot follow the dictates of other men. It is unalienable, also, because what is here a right towards men is a duty towards the Creator. It is the duty of every man to render to the Creator such homage, and such only, as he believes to be acceptable to him. This duty is precedent, both in order of time and in degree of obligation, to the claims of civil society. Before any man can be considered a member of civil society, he must be considered as a subject of the Governor of the universe; and if a member of civil society who enters into any subordinate association must do it with a reservation of his duty to the general authority, much more must every man who becomes a member of any particular civil society do it with a saving of his allegiance to the Universal Sovereign. We maintain, therefore, that in matters of religion no man’s right is abridged by the institution of civil society, and that religion is wholly exempt from its cognizance. UCS 10.4

“3. Because it is proper to take alarm at the first experiment upon our liberties. We hold this prudent jealousy to be the first duty of citizens, and one of the noblest characteristics of the late Revolution. The freemen of American did not wait till usurped power had strengthened itself by exercise, and entangled itself in precedents. They saw all the consequences in the principle, and they avoided the consequences by denying the principle. We revere this lesson too much soon to forget it. Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion to all other religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians in exclusion of all other sects? that the same authority which can force a citizen to contribute threepence only of his property for the support of any one establishment, may force him to conform to any other establishment in all cases whatsoever. UCS 11.1

“5. Because the bill implies either that the civiI magistrate is a competent judge of religious truths, or that he may employ religion as an engine of civil policy. The first is an arrogant pretension, falsified by the contradictory opinions of rulers in all ages and throughout the world; the second, an unhallowed perversion of the means of salvation. UCS 11.2

“7. Because experience witnesseth that ecclesiastical establishments, instead of maintaining the purity and efficacy of religion, have had the contrary operation. During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What have been its fruits? More or less, in all places, pride and indolence in the clergy, ignorance and servility in the laity; in both, superstition, bigotry, and persecution. UCS 12.1

“9. Because the proposed establishment is a departure from that generous policy which, offering an asylum to the persecuted and oppressed of every nation and religion, promised a luster to our country, and an accession to the number of our citizens. What a melancholy mark is the bill, of sudden degeneracy! Instead of holding forth an asylum to the persecuted, it is itself a signal of persecution. It degrades from the equal rank of citizens all those whose opinions do not bend to the legislative authority. Distant as it may be in its present form from the Inquisition, it differs from it only in degree. The one is the first step, the other is the last, in the career of intolerance. The magnanimous sufferer of this cruel scourge in foreign regions must view this bill as a beacon, on our coast, warning him to seek some other haven, where liberty and philanthropy, in their due extent, may offer a more certain repose from his troubles. UCS 12.2

“11. Because it will destroy that moderation and harmony which the forbearance of our laws to intermeddle with religion has produced among its several sects. Torrents of blood have been spilt in the Old World in consequence of the vain attempts of the secular arm to extinguish religious discord by proscribing all differences in religious opinion. Time has at length revealed the true remedy. Every relaxation of narrow and rigorous policy, wherever it has been tried, has been found to assuage the disease. The American theater has exhibited proof’s that equal and complete liberty, if it does not wholly eradicate it, sufficiently destroys its malignant influence on the health and prosperity of the State. If, with the salutary effects of this system under our own eyes, we begin to contract the bounds of religious freedom, we know no name which will too severely reproach our folly. At least, let warning be taken at the first fruits of the threatened innovation.... What mischiefs may not be dreaded, should this enemy to the public quiet be armed with the force of law? UCS 12.3

“Because, finally, ‘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 its origin, it is equally the gift of nature; if we weigh its importance, it cannot be less dear to us; if we consult the declaration of those rights ‘which pertain to the good people of Virginia as the basis and foundation of government,’ it is enumerated with equal solemnity, or, rather, with studied emphasis. Either, then, we must say that the will of the Legislature is the sole measure of their authority, and that in the plenitude of that authority they may sweep away all our fundamental rights, or that they are bound to leave this particular right untouched and sacred. Either we must say that they may control the freedom of the press, may abolish the trial by jury, may swallow up the executive and judiciary powers of the State, nay, that they may despoil us of our very right of suffrage and erect themselves into an independent and hereditary assembly, or we must say that they have no authority to enact into a law the bill under consideration.” UCS 13.1

The direct result of this incomparable remonstrance was that the iniquitous bill to which it was opposed was overwhelmingly defeated, and in its stead there was passed, December 26, 1785, “An Act for Establishing Religious Freedom,” written by Thomas Jefferson, and which, with a portion of the preamble, runs as follows:— UCS 13.2

“Well aware that Almighty God bath created the mind free; that all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments or burdens, or by civil incapacitations, tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and are a departure from the plan of the holy Author of our religion, who, being Lord both of body and mind, yet chose not to propagate it by coercion on either, as was in his almighty power to do; that the impious presumption of legislators and rulers, civil as well as ecclesiastical, who, being themselves but fallible and uninspired men, have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavoring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world and through all time; that to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves, is sinful and tyrannical; ... that our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, more than on our opinions in physics or geometry; that therefore the proscribing any citizen as unworthy the public confidence by laying upon him an incapacity of being called to the offices of trust and emolument, unless he profess or renounce this or that religious opinion, is depriving him injuriously of those privileges and advantages to which, in common with his fellow-citizens, he has a natural right; ... that to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles, on the 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 opinions the rule of judgment, and approve or condemn the sentiments of others as they shall square with or differ from his own.... UCS 13.3

Be it therefore enacted by the General Assembly: That no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in nowise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities. UCS 14.1

“And ... we are free to declare, and do declare, that the rights herehy asserted are of the natural rights of mankind, and that if any act shall be hereafter passed to repeal the pres- ent or to narrow its operation, such act will be an infringement of natural right.” UCS 14.2

Such is the origin and the history of the establishment of religious freedom as a natural right in the United States; for these principles, in many cases in these very words, have found a place in all the Constitutions of the several States of the American Union. UCS 15.1

This also is the origin of religious freedom as a Constitutional right under the Government of the United States. For, while this contest was being carried on in Virginia, steps were being taken toward the formation of a federal government for the several States which had established their independence of Great Britain. This was finally accomplished by the framing of the present national Constitution, without the Amendments. In this James Madison did more than any other one, except perhaps George Washington; and the contest in Virginia, by which there had been severed the illicit and corrupting connection between religion and the State, had not only the better fitted both Madison and Washington for this work, but had awakened the public mind, and in both points had prepared the way for the formation of a Constitution which would pledge the national government to a complete separation from religion. UCS 15.2

Accordingly, the Constitution, as originally proposed by the convention, declared on this subject that— UCS 15.3

“No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” UCS 15.4

This, however, was not allowed by the people of the States to be a sufficient guaranty of religious right. Several of the States which approved the Constitution as proposed, did so only with the proposal of an amendment more fully securing freedom of religion. And with those States which did not approve it, one of their strongest objections was that it did not sufficiently secure religious rights. In the debate on this point in the Virginia Convention, Madison gave the assurance that UCS 15.5

There is not a shadow of right in the general government to intermeddle with religion. Its least interference with it would be a most flagrant usurpation. I can appeal to my uniform conduct on this subject, that I have warmly supported religious freedom. It is better that this security should be depended upon from the general Legislature, than from one particular State. A particular State might concur in one religious project.” UCS 16.1

Nevertheless, Virginia, with several of the other States, proposed an amendment on this subject. As the outcome of all these proposed amendments, the first Congress that ever met under the Constitution framed the first Amendment, and it was adopted as it now reads:— UCS 16.2

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” UCS 16.3

This was in 1789, and in the last year of Washington’s presidency—1797—he made and signed with his own hand a treaty in which it is declared that UCS 16.4

“The Government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.” UCS 16.5

Not being in any sense founded on the Christian religion, it is evident that it is not in any sense founded on any religion at all. And this statement is as certainly a part of the supreme law of the nation as is any part of the Constitution, as Article VI plainly declares that UCS 16.6

This Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made, in pursuance therefore, and all treaties made, or under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every State shall be bound thereby, anything in the Constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.” UCS 16.7

Thus the natural right of mankind to freedom from governmental interference or dictation in matters of religion was made a constitutional right under the Government of the United States. UCS 17.1

And thus have the people of the United States expressed in the supreme law of the land their will that the Government of the United States is, and of right ought to be, FREE AND INDEPENDENT OF ALL ECCLESIASTICAL OR RELIGIOUS CONNECTION, INTERFERENCE OR CONTROL. UCS 17.2