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Meditation 1094
Faith or Fact

Civil Liberty

by: Henry M. Taber

Comment by JT: This is perhaps one of the more timeless chapters of this book. We see news reports every week of some religious person or another claiming his or her rights have been infringed upon when limited in the right to impose religious views on others.

An example from this week: Bryan Fisher of the American Family Association quoted Judge Story, of the 19th Century U. S. Supreme Court out of context (and I would suspect knowingly) to state that the freedom of religion specified in the US Constitution applied only to Christians.

As can be seen in the text below, Judge Story stated clearly "It must have been intended to extend equally to all sects, whether they believe in Christianity or not and whether they are Jews or Infidels."

Fighting for civil liberty for all is a never-ending battle.

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THE general impression is that civil liberty and religious liberty are (as it were), twin sisters, both animated by a common purpose and actuated by a desire to aid each other in securing and maintaining those equitable rights which are the natural heritage of all, without regard to differences of opinion on matters political, economical or religious. The twin sister representing religious liberty, however, has not had the same regard for the rights of its twin sister representing civil liberty as is supposed. While civil liberty recognizes the equal rights of all, irrespective of opinion, religious liberty (or its votaries), limits these rights to those who adopt the religion which religious people have “liberty” to profess and practice; in other words, the advocates of religious liberty deny civil liberty to all those who decline to accept any of the tolerated religions, claiming that such persons “have no rights which ‘religious people’ are bound to respect.” Thus we have religious liberty, but not civil liberty.
Noah Webster defines “civil liberty” as “exemption from arbitrary interference with person, opinion or property on the part of the government under which one lives.” Taking this as its true meaning, the question may be seriously and anxiously asked — have we civil liberty in this country?

Have we that civil liberty which claims exemption from “arbitrary interference” with our persons when we are compelled to “observe” (as religious fanaticism calls it) a certain day of the week and abstain from occupation, recreation or pleasure on that day?

Have we that civil liberty which demands exemption from arbitrary interference with our opinions when our children in the public schools (supported by general tax) are given religious instruction which their parents regard as so much useless or baneful superstition ? A further arbitrary interference with our opinions is shown where testimony of a witness is rejected because he refuses to believe in the inspiration of a certain book, or in a future state of punishment.

Have we that civil liberty which grants exemption from arbitrary interference with our property when we are compelled by law to contribute our money (thro’ the tax levy) toward appropriations for sectarian institutions; for payment of chaplains in our prisons, in congress, in the army and navy ; and to supplement the amount rendered necessary by reason of the exemption of church property from taxation? Surely not.

It would be quite as proper and as just had the opponents of Sunday observance the power, for them to enact a law fining and imprisoning people for preaching or praying on Sunday, as it is now to likewise punish for working or playing on that day. The arrest and imprisonment of citizens who (though thoroughly religious and many of them Christians) do not believe in Sunday observance is as arbitrary and tyrannical as any act that history records. Three Baptists (who observe religiously the seventh day of the week) have been for months languishing in a prison in Tennessee for the crime (!) of attending to their gardens or performing some ordinary farm duties on Sunday. Think of this in this land which boasts of civil liberty!

There is no greater denial of civil liberty than the exclusion from the world’s fair of millions of our citizens on the only day of the week they can visit it, because (forsooth) certain religious fanatics regard it as a sacred day.

The danger to civil liberty in the matter of religious teaching in our public schools is recognized even by the clergy. The late Rev. Howard Crosby, D.D., said: “There is no safety for our country but in non-sectarian (elementary) education.”

The sentiment of all intelligent, reflecting and just persons is that of a firm opposition to contributing, either directly or indirectly, by the State, in support of any religious institutions. The system of exempting church property from taxation is an indirect method of appropriating money for the support of places of worship. Many of the clergy who believe in civil liberty as principle boldly denounce this exemption. Rev. Dr. Shipman of Christ Church, New York city, says: “That which is protected by government may justly be compelled to maintain it. I would like to see all church property throughout the land taxed to the last dollar’s worth. The Church may fight this question, but sooner or later, the battle will go against it, and its retreat will not be only with dented armor but with banners soiled.”

Judge Story, of the U. S. Supreme Court, says (in the Gerard will case): “The Constitution of 1790 and the like permission will, in substance, be found in the Constitution of 1776, and the existing Constitution of 1838 expressly declares that no man can of right be compelled to attend, erect or support any place of worship, or to maintain any ministry against his consent… It must have been intended to extend equally to all sects, whether they believe in Christianity or not and whether they are Jews or Infidels.”

To the honor of those branches of the Christian Church known as Baptists and Methodists, be it known, that they have declined to accept the money appropriated by the general government for religious instruction among the Indians, on the ground that the government has no business whatever to make such appropriations.

Sunday laws, appointments of religious and fast days, and of chaplains; the requirements of oaths and religious teachings in our public schools; sectarian appropriations of money and exemption of church property from taxation — all are clearly interferences with that civil liberty which grants equal privileges and imparts equal justice to all — to the religious and to those who make no profession of religion.

The Constitution of the United States says: “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion,” and yet, in the face of this section and in utter disregard of it, there is a virtual establishment of the Christian religion, as is shown (for instance) by its recognition in the religious services had at the opening of each day’s session of Congress.

The Constitution also says: “No religious test shall be required as a qualification to any office, and yet no person will be permitted to fill certain offices, unless they take a prescribed oath as a test of belief in particular religion.

The State of New York (among other States) has a law positively prohibiting appropriations of any money for sectarian purposes, and yet such appropriations are annually made in addition to indirect contributions for the support of churches by exempting church property from the operation of a uniform tax law.

What a mockery to claim that we have civil liberty in this country! Christianity, by its intolerant spirit and its impudent assumption of superior knowledge and superior goodness, has robbed us of this boon.

When I speak of Christianity and of Christians, I make an exception in favor of many unpretentious, tolerant, liberal minded and justice-loving believers in that faith. From such come honorable protests against invasions of civil liberty.

Rev. I. L. Wilkinson, D.D. (Baptist) says: “Ours is a civil government, strictly and exclusively; its jurisdiction extends only over civil affairs. A Christian government implies a State religion. Religious liberty does not mean liberty for the Christian religion alone.”

Bishop Venner says: “The mixing up of politics with religion under any circumstances, is fraught with manifold and multiform dangers. There is no tyranny so cruel, no yoke so intolerable, as priestcraft when vested with temporal authority. More political atrocities, butcheries, crimes and enormities have been committed in the name and on account of religion than have arisen from any and all other causes combined.”

Advocates of civil liberty in all ages and in all lands have uttered their protests against the domination of the Church,

Christ’s injunction — “Render unto Cæsar the things that are Cæsar’s” — is a precept which the Christian Church daily repudiates.

Edward I. of England caused taxes to be levied on the clergy on the (true) principle that those who are protected by the State should share its burdens.

J. L. M. Curry, in Johnson’s Encyclopedia (article “Religious Liberty “) says: “Unfortunately, Constantine, in 313, established Christianity by law, and since that time Christians, when they have obtained power, have allied their religion with civil authorities.”

The Jewish Times, in a recent article on sectarian enactments (such as Sunday, oath and blasphemy laws) and of the religious intolerance and fanaticism which has injected them into our politics, says : “There is not one of these enactments that may not on any day be invoked against citizens who do not profess the Christian religion. The Adventists, Jews, Agnostics and the great body of rationalists at large have not the equal rights guaranteed by the Constitution that Christians have.”

John Stuart Mill says: “Mankind could be no more justified in silencing the honest opinion of one person than that one person would, had he the power, be justified in silencing the opinion of mankind.” And yet, here in this country, where civil liberty is supposed to abound more extensively than in any other, there are millions of people whose opinions are silenced by the noisy, dogmatic, bigoted persecuting upholders of the Christian Church.

Civil liberty exists in this country to a very limited degree and it will so continue as long as this domineering, tyrannical and unjust Christian Church is permitted to rob us of our civil rights.

The late Rev. Henry J. VanDyke, D.D. (Presbyterian) had the courage to say: “If we cannot have liberty and orthodoxy, let orthodoxy go.” And so let us say that if we cannot have religion and liberty let religion go. If religious liberty endangers civil liberty let religious liberty go by all means, for we can easily dispense with the latter, but will be remanded to dark and barbarous ages if civil liberty be denied us.

Mrs. M. A. Freeman, Cor. Sec. American Secular Union, writes: “The people have permitted various privileges to the Church. It has become arrogant with the granting of them and follows but the course of bigotry in all ages. It is not satisfied with the various priestly perquisites it enjoys, but, throwing aside all disguise, demands for its divinities the nation itself.”

The granting of religious liberty, at the expense of civil liberty, in the days of Thomas Paine, had this effect (says Col. Ingersoll) : “All kinds of Christians had the right – and it was their duty — to brand, imprison and kill infidels of every kind.”

There has been no greater enemy of civil liberty than the Christian Church, from the fourth century (when it became ascendant) even to the present time, during which period it has caused the shedding of rivers of human blood, in its hatred of and conflict with, civil liberty.

We boast of civil liberty in this country, seeming to forget that we are denied every civil right except such as the Church permits.

How long is this condition of things to last? Will the Church grow wise enough, in the near future, to recognize our rights and cease its opposition thereto, or will the time come when the lovers of civil liberty will demand the possession of those rights, at whatever cost? for the spirit of the age insists that we have true, pure, unmingled civil liberty.

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