The Union of Church and State in the United States



For all these reasons, as Christians, as Protestants, as American citizens, and as men, we do now and forever appeal from the decision of the Supreme Court of the United States of February 29, 1892, which declares this to be “a religious people” and “a Christian nation,” and from the act of Congress which establishes Sunday as the Sabbath. UCS 77.3

As Christians, we appeal on the ground of the divine right which Jesus Christ has recognized and declared—the right of every man to dissent even from the words and the religion of Christ. These are his words: “If any man hear my words and believe not, I judge him not; for I came not to judge the world but to save the world.” John 12:49. UCS 77.4

As Protestants, we appeal on the ground of the historical right to protest against every interference of civil government in the affairs of religion. The grand charter of Protestantism, the Augsburg Confession, declares:— UCS 78.1

“The civil administration is occupied about other matters than is the gospel. The magistracy does not defend the souls, but the bodies, and bodily things, against manifest injuries; and coerces men by the sword and corporal punishment, that it may uphold civil justice and peace. Wherefore, the ecclesiastical and the civil power are not to be confounded. The ecclesiastical power has its own command, to preach the gospel and administer the sacraments. Let it not by force enter into the office of another; let it not transfer worldly kingdoms; ... let it not prescribe laws to um magistrate touching the form of the State; as Christ says, ‘My kingdom is not of this world.’”—Article XXVIII. UCS 78.2

As American citizens, we appeal on the ground of the specifically declared constitutional right to the free exercise of religion according to the dictates of the individual conscience, totally free and exempt from all governmental connection, interference, or control. UCS 78.3

As men, we appeal on the ground of the natural right of mankind to render to the Creator such homage and such only as each man believes to be acceptable to him: which right men possess by virtue of being men, and not by virtue of government; which was theirs before government was, and which would be theirs though there were no earthly government at all; which is their own, in the essential meaning of the term; which is precedent to all the claims of civil society, and which would be the same to each man though there were not another person on the earth; which they do not hold by any sub-infeudation, but by direct homage and allegiance to the Owner and Lord of all. UCS 78.4

And whether as Christians, as Protestants, as American citizens, or as men, what we mean by religion, always and everywhere, is “the duty which we owe to our Creator, AND THE MANNER OF DISCHARGING IT.” UCS 79.1

Finally, in this our appeal from this action of the Government of the United States, and our remonstrance against the principle, and all the consequences, of the action, we adopt (and adapt) the words of Madison, Jefferson, the Presbyterians, the Baptists, the Quakers, and the other good people of Virginia, in their memorable defense against the establishment of the “Christian religion” there and the making of that “a Christian State.” UCS 79.2

We would 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 life, liberty, and property of the citizens, and to restrain the virtuous and encourage the virtuous by wholesome laws, equally extending to every individual. But religion, or the duty which we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, and is no-where cognizable but at the tribunal of the universal Judge. UCS 79.3

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. We maintain, therefore, that in matters of re- ligion no man’s right is abridged by the institution of civil society, and that religion is wholly exempt from its cognizance. UCS 79.4

2. If religion be exempt from the authority of society at large, much more is it exempt from the authority of the government. The latter is but the creature and vicegerent of the former. Its jurisdiction is both derivative and limited. It is limited with regard to the coordinate departments of the government, and more necessarily is it limited with regard to the whole people. The preservation of free government requires not merely that the metes and bounds which separate each department of the governmental power be invariably maintained, but more especially that neither of them be suffered to overleap the great barrier which defends the rights of the people. The rulers who are guilty of’ such encroachment exceed the commission from which they derive their authority, and are tyrants. The people who submit to it are governed by laws made neither by themselves nor by any authority derived from them, and are slaves. UCS 80.1

3. 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 the noblest characteristic of the American Revolution. The freemen of America 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 seems to forget it. Who does not see that the same authority that can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other sects? And it is impossible for the magistrate to adjudge the right of preference among the various sects that profess the Christian faith, without erecting a claim to infallibility, which would lead us back to the Church of Rome. Who does not see that the same authority that can require assent to Christianity as the national religion, may, with the same propriety, require assent to each particular phase and feature of that religion? that the same authority that can require the observance of the “Christian sabbath,” may, by the same right, require the observance of every other “Christian” practice, custom, or institution? nay, more, that, with the same propriety and the same right, the authority which may require assent to Christianity as the national religion, may require assent to any other religion which the shifting policy of government, might seem to demand? For it is certain that there is no argument in favor of establishing the Christian religion which may not, with equal propriety, be pleaded for establishing the tenets of Mohammed by those who believe the Koran; or Buddhism or any other religion by those who believe in such religion. UCS 80.2

4. During almost sixteen centuries has the legal establishment of “Christianity” been on trial, under a number of different claims and phases. What have been its fruits? More or less in all places pride, indolence, and insolence in he favored clergy; ignorance and servility in the assenting laity; in both superstition, bigotry, and persecution. Inquire of the teachers of Christianity, for the ages in which it appeared in its greatest power and luster; those of every sect will point to the time before its incorporation with the civil power, whether it be viewed in its first propagation by the apostles, or in its revival in the great Reformation. UCS 81.1

5. On the other hand, what influence, in fact, have estab- lished religions had on civil society? In some instances they have been seen to erect a spiritual tyranny on the ruins of civil authority; in many instances they have been seen upholding the thrones of political tyranny; in no instance have they been seen the guardians of the liberties of the people. A just government, instituted to secure and perpetuate public liberty, needs then not. Such a government will be best supported by protecting every citizen in the enjoyment of his religion, with the same equal hand which protects his person and property—by neither invading the equal right of any sect or individual, nor suffering any sect to invade those of another or of any individual. UCS 81.2

6. This establishment of a national religion here is a serious departure from that generous disposition of this government which, offering an asylum to the persecuted and oppressed of every nation and religion, has made this nation the glory of the ages and (excepting the Papacy) the admiration of the world. What a melancholy mark is this decision of sudden degeneracy! Instead of holding forth still an asylum to the persecuted, it is itself a signal of persecution. It degrades from the equal rank of citizens all whose opinions in religion do not bend to those of the governmental 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. Henceforth the magnanimous sufferer from this cruel scourge in foreign regions must view this action of our government as a beacon on our coast warning him that now there is on earth no haven where he may be secure from religious oppression and persecution. UCS 82.1

7. Finally, the equal rights of every citizen to the free exercise of religion according to the dictates of the individ- ual conscience is held by the same tenure as 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 national Constitution, the grand charter of those rights which pertain to the good people of the United States, it is not only enumerated with equal solemnity, but it is reserved with studied and special emphasis. UCS 82.2

Either, then, we must say that the will of the governmental authority is the only measure of that authority, and that in the plenitude of that authority it may sweep away all our fundamental rights, or that it is bound to leave this particular right untouched and sacred. Either we must say that the governmental authorities may control the freedom of the press, may abolish the trial by jury—nay, that they may despoil us of our very right of suffrage and erect themselves into an independent and hereditary body, or we must say that they had no authority to make the declaration and decision or to pass the acts under consideration. UCS 83.1

We say that the Government of the United States has no such authority, and in order that no effort may be omitted on our part against so dangerous a usurpation, we oppose to it this appeal and remonstrance. UCS 83.2