Back to LibertyL. A. Smith January/February 2000 In the contest that is being waged in this country for the preservation of the rights of conscience, the point has been reached where a special organ is again felt to be a necessity in the educational work which aims to bring the people to a right decision upon this question. As such an organ, Liberty now makes its appearance.
In former years, when the movement to compel the conscience through religious legislation attained threatening headway in many places, good service was rendered by the American Sentinel, afterward the Sentinel of Christian Liberty, which was published as the special organ of those who stood for the separation of church and state and the maintenance of Protestant and republican principles of government. A great work was accomplished by the Sentinel in the cause of religious freedom at that time. Now, after some years of apparent lull in the conflict, there is a great renewal of activity behind the church-and-state movement, and another crisis is at hand, which will call for active, earnest work with the most effective agencies that can be found.
Such an agency Liberty will be, if the purpose of its publication is realized. This journal will be a true exponent and advocate of liberty-not that liberty which means license, which degrades and enslaves body and mind, not the liberty which means class privilege, or which disregards the rights of the weak and defenseless-but the liberty which is God-given, which is the right of all persons by creation-the liberty for which the martyrs suffered, and by their suffering bequeathed to us-the liberty which is in harmony with the laws of God and with all just statutes of men.
It will be the mission of this journal to proclaim such liberty throughout the land. --L.A. Smith, Editor, 1906.
The liberty for which this magazine stands is not that reckless sentiment called liberty by a certain class who have cut loose from the restraints of law and desire to be guided only by their own fancy. This magazine will never offer any apology for the crimes committed by persons of this sort. We advocate liberty no more strongly than we advocate law. Liberty and law belong together; the two are inseparable. One of the chief reasons that so much now needs to be said and done in behalf of liberty is that we are living in an era of lawlessness. Lawlessness means disregard by one or by many of the rights and interests of others. It means the oppression of the weak by the strong. Just in proportion as the spirit of lawlessness gains the ascendancy in any place, the liberty of the people is put in jeopardy. The divine law or moral code is called the "perfect law of liberty." If that law were perfectly obeyed, there would be perfect liberty. In contending for liberty we shall not forget to call attention to the exalted character of this highest law.
Religious Liberty Has Made This Nation Great
If this nation is great for one reason more than for any other, it is that its founders stood for religious liberty. Note the following:
GEORGE WASHINGTON: " Every man who conducts himself as a good citizen is accountable alone to God for his religious faith, and should be protected in worshiping God according to the dictates of his own conscience."
THOMAS JEFFERSON: " Almighty God hath created the mind free. 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."
JAMES MADISON " Religion is not in the purview of human government. Religion is essentially distinct from government and exempt from its cognizance. A connection between them is injurious to both."
U. S. GRANT: " Leave the matter of religion to the family altar, the church, and the private school supported entirely by private contributions."
"Keep the State and the Church Forever Separate"
The historian John Clark Ridpath has well said: "Proscription has no part or lot in the modern government of the world. The stake, the gibbet, and the rack, thumbscrews, swords, and pillory have no place among the machinery of civilization. Nature is diversified. So are human faculties, beliefs, and practises. Essential freedom is the right to differ, and that right must be sacredly respected."
The following from a Senate report, in 1829, on petitions for Sunday legislation, is eminently pertinent just now: "The proper object of government is to protect all persons in the enjoyment of their civil as well as their religious rights, and not to determine for any whether they shall esteem one day above another, or esteem all days alike holy. What other nations call religious tolerance we call religious rights. They are not exercised in virtue of governmental indulgence, but as rights, of which government cannot deprive any portion of citizens, however small. Despotic power may invade those rights, but justice still confirms them."
Furthermore, Sunday legislation is not only contrary to the Constitution and principles of this government, but both the legislation and the keeping of the day itself as the Sabbath are in direct conflict with that law which is above all human law, the law of God, which plainly declares that "the seventh-day [not the first] is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God" (See Exodus 20:8-11). Because the majority keep the first day as the Sabbath is no evidence that it is the Sabbath, or that all should be compelled to keep it. In religion, the majority have generally been wrong. Benjamin Franklin well said: "When religion is good it will take care of itself; when it is not able to take care of itself, and God does not see fit to take care of it, so that it has to appeal to civil power for support, it is evidence in my opinion that its cause is a bad one."
Testimony of Eminent Men
JOHN WESLEY said: "Let every one enjoy the full and free liberty of thinking for himself. If you cannot reason or persuade a man into the truth, never attempt to force a man into it."
DR. ADAM CLARKE wrote: " No other kind of constraint [than prayers, counsels, and entreaties] is ever recommended in the gospel of Christ. Every other kind of compulsion is anti-Christian, can be submitted to only by cowards and knaves, and can produce nothing but hypocrites. The church which tolerates, encourages, and practises persecution, under the pretense of concern for the purity of the faith, and zeal for the glory of God, is not the church of Christ, and no man can be of such a church without endangering his salvation."
DR. ALBERT BARNES taught: " If we can have a Sabbath, maintained by a healthful, popular sentiment, rather than by human laws, Christianity is safe in this land, and our country is safe. If not, the Sabbath, and religion, and liberty will die together."
CHARLES SPURGEON said: " I am ashamed of some Christians because they have so much dependence on Parliament and the law of the land. Much good may Parliament ever do to true religion, except by mistake! As to getting the law of the land to touch our religion, we earnestly cry, 'Hands off! leave us alone!' Your Sunday bills and all other forms of act-of-Parliament religion seem to me to be all wrong. Give us a fair field and no favor, and our faith has no cause to fear. Christ wants no help from Caesar."
From every standpoint, therefore, from which the question may be viewed, Sunday legislation is wrong.
Jesus, the Author of Christianity, taught the separation of church and state. He said: "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's." The Sabbath belongs to God, and therefore is not to be rendered to Caesar. When on trial before Pontius Pilate, Christ declared: "My kingdom is not of this world." He taught liberty. "Whosoever will, let him come." " 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."
We therefore hold that no religious day should be enforced by law, whether the first or the seventh; that any measure tending directly or indirectly to enforce religion will work injury not only to the state, but most of all to religion itself. Liberty, absolute and eternal, is the gift of God. In religion let there be no compulsion, no persecution.
In his letter to the Jews, of November 16, 1905, President Theodore Roosevelt said: "I feel very strongly that if any people are oppressed anywhere, the wrong inevitably reacts in the end on those who oppress them; for it is an immutable law in the spiritual world that no one can wrong others and yet in the end himself escape unhurt."
In the name, therefore, of those noble men who sought to build this nation free, who risked their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor to give liberty to the people of this country; in the name of Christianity Itself; in the name of Jesus Christ, who died to set us free now and eternally, we protest against this and all other religious legislation by Congress. And we invite all Christians and all liberty loving people everywhere to join us in this protest.
W. A. COLCORD, Associate Editor
Limits of Civil Authority
There are limits to the authority of the civil power, and these limits should be clearly understood by the people. A republican form of government, as contrasted with an absolute monarchy, implies a limitation to the powers of the government beyond which it cannot rightfully go.
Civil government is not the custodian of the souls of the people. Upon all the pages of human history the truth is written plainly that there are two spheres of life within which man moves, with one of which-the higher sphere of conscience and of his relation to God-the civil power can rightfully have nothing to do. Again and again the Almighty has vindicated the course of those who, in order to be true to Him, have refused obedience to unjust mandates from the civil authority. The darkest pages of history are those recording the results of the invasion by the civil power of the realm of conscience. The early history of most of the leading religious denominations of this day was marked by their resistance to the dictates of the civil power outside the sphere of its legitimate authority.
The true sphere of civil government was well defined by the men who founded the American republic. The Declaration of Independence, justifying the separation from Great Britain which led to the founding of this nation, says: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; and 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." This is the principle of government upon which this nation is established.
Governments are instituted among men to preserve the natural, unalienable rights which men have by creation; that is, as individuals; and not to curtail these rights, or to take them away. When civil government invades these rights, it does exactly the opposite of that which it is instituted to do. This is a perverted and illegitimate use of its power.
Legislatures cannot create natural rights, neither can they make right wrong, or wrong right. The law of right and wrong is a law antedating and wholly independent of any legislative enactments. Legislators are bound to shape their legislation by their knowledge of this law of justice which is inherent in the human mind, and their legislation will be excellent in proportion as they approximate to this ideal standard. It is proper to say, therefore, that the province of the legislature is not to create law, but to ascertain and define it. Righteousness is a law, and has been such from the foundation of the world. It is binding upon men everywhere, and at all times. All men are bound, always, to do right.
The question What is the law? is therefore not the question lying at the foundation of one's duty in any religious or spiritual matter which is brought before him. There is another question lying deeper than this, and that is the question, What is right? Sometimes injustice becomes enthroned in law; but this does not put upon any person an obligation to do morally wrong. He is still bound to do right, still bound by conscience to the higher law of God. This higher law must be obeyed at any cost.
A statute commanding one to commit murder on certain occasions, or to steal, or to swear falsely, would not be binding on anyone, and would not be obeyed; and the reason given for disobedience to it would be that it was unjust. No one would claim that it ought to be obeyed simply because it was "the law"; and what would be true of such a statute would be true of every enactment that is contrary to the law of God. Unjust enactments do not derive any sanctity from being on the statute books. They ought to be repealed, not enforced.
In secular affairs, the principle of majority rule is at the foundation of government; and this is proper and necessary. But in matters of conscience, majority rule has no place. An individual's duty toward God cannot be determined by a majority vote. Every individual's relation to God is a direct relation, not sustained through any other individuals or through the government. "Every one of us shall give account of himself to God."
Faith, which is the essence of Christianity, is individual belief of God's word, irrespective of the belief or opinions of any or all other persons. In religion, the majority have always been on the wrong side. It is the majority that throng the broad way leading to destruction, and only the small minority who travel the narrow way leading unto life. Thus the spheres of religion and of civil government must be wholly separate from each other.
Within its legitimate sphere the civil power should have the unhesitating obedience of all persons. Only the higher claims of duty toward God can justify anyone in refusing obedience to the civil ruler. Only a plain conflict with the higher law of God can justify any disobedience to the laws of men. The legitimate realm of the civil power is that of preserving the rights of the people, and within this realm it has the sanction of God. No one can, under a plea of conscientious conviction of duty, be permitted to invade the natural rights of another person. These rights do not conflict, and each one must respect the rights of others.
L. A. SMITH, Editor