« PreviousContinue »
ist. Disqualifications for offices on account of relie gious opinions, is indirect persecution.
Educated as we have been in the principles of independence and religious freedom, we recoil with horror at the idea of the puny arm of a mortal grasping the thun. ders of Heaven, and “ clad in a little brief authority" invading the sacred province of the Almighty. We ridicule the project of laying fetters on the mind, or compelling it to receive a different train of ideas from that which it involuntarily receives. History has taught us the terrific consequences of a system more foolish than the fabled design of the Giants, of scaling the abodes of the Gods. Too well we know, that when the presumptuous pile, founded on the blood of heroic martyrs, has reached its most lofty eminence, it has sunk by its own cumbrous weight, and, like the mountains in the story to which we have just alluded, has buried its wretched and aspiring builders beneath its ruins. What is it that has defiled the purity of religion, and reduced it to contempt? What is it that has oppressed the world with ignorance, tyranny, and superstition? What is it that has polluted the altars of Christ with the corruptions of Moloch, and stained them with the blood of his followers ? The desire of an empire over the conscience, of a dominion over the reason and the thoughts, and of an impious equality with the God who gave them.
If such have been the effects of bigotry, how carefully should we watch over it in its first and gentlest forms; how fearful of recognising a principle from which the most awful consequences máy finally arise ! Let us seriously inquire what this, principle is, and
whether it always necessarily operates in chains, tortures, and death.
Religious liberty is the freedom to discuss, receive, and profess, any principles purely speculative; not only unmolested in the immediate act of worship, but unpunished for the exercise. Its grand foundation is that no earthly power has a right to interfere with the conscience, which is the province of God alone and that therefore all pains and penalties inflicted merely on account of difference in sentiment, are, in their nature, impious and unjust. When earthly rulers speak of tolerating a religion, they directly assert their right to suspend that favor when they please ; and, at any time, to punish that which they now suffer. That which needs toleration by the governors of a society, must be an offence, and an offence, too, against society; and as such, though for a time it may be allowed or winked at, as contraband commerce sometimes is, it is liable, whenever the tolerating party think their policy requires it, to be punished as a crime in any way which may appease their passions, quiet their fears, or gratify their malevolence. This is exactly the state of the Catholics and of ourselves. From motives of pure benignity, our worship is allowed_our rulers most graciously permit the Lord of Heaven to receive our prayers — and in return for granting us as a favor what we feel to be a right, they take away part of another right; and for this kind toleration we are called to be thankful, and with its blessings to sit down in security and content.
Our worship is allowed on condition of our submitting to certain penalties ; that is, in other words,
it is prohibited under certain inconveniences to be undergone by those who profess it. The case stands plainly thus-Is it, or is it not, the birth-right of every man in a free State, to aspire to certain offices, towards the maintenance of which he is compelled to · contribute? Is not this as much secured to him, as his personal freedom ? Is not the taking away of this right a real injury, and degradation ? If, therefore, it be done on account of religious opinions, is not this as much in reality persecution, as if his personal freedom were violated for the same reason? If it be true, that Governments have a right to press upon an individual with the least inconvenience, on account of speculative opinions of one kind, they have a right to inflict positive penalties on another set of opinions they regard as more criminal :! and if the exigencies of the State seem to them to require it, to visit the crimes of heresy, according to their degrees of blackness, with degradation, fine, imprisonment, and death!
Let us not then be told that we have complete religious freedom, because we can exercise our' worship without immediate molestation, and that it is political power for which we are laboring. The fact is, that by our exclusion from this political power, to contend for which is the right of every good citizen, a principle is asserted on the part of those who withhold the boon, which may, at their will, deprive us of the privileges we now enjoy. While they assert their right
• ' As is actually the case with all who deny the doctrine of the Trinity,
to inconvenience, or degrade us, we have no other ground of security but their interest, or their benig. nity. If we, or if the Catholics, remain silent, we are establishing a claim, which, if it press not too heavily on us, may be employed in hurling to the ground the sacred blessings of our posterity. · When a late attempt was made to press this prin. ciple upon the worship of dissenters, the whole body of the population rose against it, and by its firmness and vigor, baffled an attempt which would have ex. posed the mass of them to immediate inconvenience. The remonstrances of so large a number convinced the high-church party that it was impolitic to enact the law. Why did we then display such unanimity and vigor? Was it because the inconvenience would be immediate, and the oppression general ? And have we then no feeling but for our own individual interest-no prudent eye upon the lot of our children-no high-minded desires for the honor of our nature, for the dignity of our cause? Are we contented to oppress one small branch of the tree of intolerance, when we may lay the axe to the very foundations ? Are we satisfied with expending all our vigor in lopping off a few of the luxuriant boughs, which may fructify again to oppress future ages with their pernicious shade?..
Again-If it still be contended that the deprivation of obtaining the political power, which we pay to support, on account of sentiments, is no infringement of liberty of conscience, let me ask you one ques. tion-Şuppose a bill to deprive us all of our elective franchise, on the same account, were introduced into
Parliament, and to place us on the same footing with the Catholics at the commencement of the present reign, would that be no infringement on religious freedom? This would still be no positive persecution ; we might still enjoy our prayer-meetings and conferences—at least as long as the government thus constituted would permit us; it would still be as much a question of political power as the present. To be eligible to places of trust and responsibility—to be able to serve our country in an exalted sphere-is as much our birth-right as the choice of men to legis. late for us. If our right to be chosen be taken away, our right to choose is equally liable to be wrested from us. And should we then remain silent? Should we then content ourselves with our religious assemblies, and our hopes of a better country? Certainly not. And why? It would be a deprivation that would come home at once to every man's bosom ; it would not affect the aspiring few only, but the humble many.- Protestant Dissenters! is this your patriotism, is this your zeal for religious liberty ? Have you no regard to the finer minds, who would reflect immortal honor on your illustrious body, if allowed the common chance of obtaining the prizes of pure and lofty ambition ? Have you no regard to the welfare of your brethren-none to the rights of your children? Is all your zeal for religious liberty a mere desire of private convenience, without aspiring after general advantage, and future security ?-If the virtuous feel. ing you have derived from your ancestors, be more than a wish to preserve your prayer-meetings and chapels from outrage during your own lives, come