Four Winds Publications

Principles of Liberty of Conscience and Religious Liberty

ARGUMENT: State and national, alike?

RESPONSE: State and national. George Washington once said, "Every man" who conducts himself as a good citizen is accountable alone to God for his religious faith, and is to be protected in worshipping God according to the dictates of his own conscience." And so should we be protected, so long as we are law-abiding citizens.

There are people who believe in community of property in this world. Suppose they base their principles of having all things in common upon the apostolic example. Very good. They have the right to do that. Everyone who sells his property and puts it into a common fund, has a right to do that if he chooses; but suppose these men in carrying out that principle, and in claiming that it is a religious ordinance, were to take, without consent your property or mine into their community. Then what ? -The State forbids it. It does not forbid the exercise of their religion; but it protects your property and mine, and in exercising its prerogative of protection, it forbids theft. And in forbidding theft, the State never asks any questions as to whether thieving is a religious practice.

It is every man's right in this country, or anywhere else, to worship an idol if he chooses. That idol embodies his conviction of what God is. He can worship only according to his convictions. It matters not what form his idol may have, he has the right to worship it anywhere in all the world, therefore in the United States. But suppose that in the worship of that god he attempts to take the life of one of his fellowmen, and offer it as a human sacrifice. The civil government exists for the protection of life, liberty, property, etc., and it must punish that man for his attempt upon the life of his fellowman.

The civil law protects man's life from such exercise of anyone's religion, but in punishing the offender, the State does not consider the question of his religion at all. It would punish him just the same if he made no pretensions to worship or to religion. It punishes him for his incivility, for his attempt at murder, not for his irreligion. The question of religion is not considered by the State; the sole question is, Did he threaten the life of his fellow-man? Civil government must protect its citizens. This is strictly within Caesar's jurisdiction; it comes within the line of duties which the Scripture shows to pertain to our neighbor, and with it Caesar has to do.

Therefore it is true that the State can never of right legislate in regard to any man's religious faith, or in relation to anything in the first four commandments of the Decalogue. But if in the exercise of his religious convictions under the first four commandments, a man invades the rights of his neighbor, as to life, family, property, or character, then the civil government says that it is unlawful. Why? Because it is irreligious or immoral? - Not at all but because it is uncivil, and for that reason only. It never can be proper for the State to ask any question as to whether any man is religious or not, or whether his actions are religious or not. The sole question must ever be, Is the action civil or uncivil?

NOTE: These explanations of the Declaration of Principle of Religious Liberty were drawn and adapted from The Sentinel Library, National Sunday Law, Pacific Press Publishing Co., 1889. The arguments were presented by Senator Blair and the responses were offered by A.T. Jones, Seventh-Day Adventist minister, before the United States Senate Committee on Education and Labor, Washington, D.C. December 13, 1888.

A.T. Jones was interrupted by the chairman alone 169 times in ninety minutes as may be seen by the official report of the hearing. (50th Congress - 2nd Session - Messages and Document #43 p. 73-102)
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