“Civil Grounds of Religious Intolerance” American Sentinel 11, 25, pp. 195, 196.

June 18, 1896

IN No. 18 of the current volume of this paper was published an article under this title in which it was shown that “in all ages and in every country religious intolerance has been defended on the ground of public policy,” and that “dissenters have ever been stigmatized as enemies of the State, subverters of social order, and disturbers of the public peace.” 671 The proof of these propositions was conclusive, but by no means as full as it might have been. Indeed, to exhaust the subject would be to review the entire history of the world, for substantially the same arguments have been urged in justification of restrictions of freedom of conscience in every country and in every period.

Speaking of the causes of pagan persecutions, Lecky says that “they were partly political and partly religious.” The same writer explains this statement in this way:—

In the earlier days of Rome religion was looked upon as a function of the State; its chief object was to make the gods auspicious to the national policy, and its principal ceremonies were performed at the direct command of the Senate. 672

Of certain repressive measures directed by the Romans against other religions than their own, Lecky says:—

They grew out of that intense national spirit which sacrificed every other interest to the State, and resisted every form of innovation, whether secular or religious, that could impair the unity of the national type, and dissolve the dicipline [sic.] which the predominance of the military spirit and the stern government of the Republic had formed. 673

It thus appears that the real motive that led the pagans to persecute the Christians was a desire to preserve intact their civil institutions; the very motive which to-day actuates the Czar in the persecution of Jews and Stundists, and that is urged in our own country in justification of certain measures of religious legislation. In justification of Sunday laws, Mr. Crafts says, as quoted in our former article:—

It is the conviction of the majority that the nation cannot be preserved without religion, nor religion without the Sabbath, nor the Sabbath without laws, therefore Sabbath laws are enacted by the right of self-preservation, not in violation of liberty, but for its protection.

This is but a revamping of the old pagan theory firmly believed by the multitude. Lecky says, “that the prosperity and adversity of the empire depended chiefly upon the zeal or indifference that was shown in conciliating the national divinities.” That the Christian religion is true while the religion of the Romans was false does not affect the principle; civil government was as much a divine ordinance in Rome as it is in the United States, and if the preservation of social order justifies religious laws now, it justified them as fully then. Nor is this all; if the preservation of either this or any other nation justifies religious restrictions at all, it justifies such restriction to any extent which in the judgment of those in authority may be necessary for the preservation of that nation. But to maintain such a position would be to justify all the persecution that has ever cursed any land, or disgraced any system of religion.

Another point of semblance between ancient and modern intolerance, between pagan and so-called Christian bigotry, is found in the fact that when Rome reached the point of tolerating professors of all religions in Rome, this liberty did not free the Roman “from the obligation of performing also the sacrifices or other religious rites in his own land.” The parallel to this is found in Tennessee and some other of our American States in which perfect religious liberty is supposed to be guaranteed, notwithstanding the fact that a certain amount of deference must always be paid to the religion of the majority, in the observance of Sunday.

American colonial history is exceedingly fruitful in illustrations of how religious intolerance has sought to shield itself behind civil considerations, and justify persecution on the ground of protecting public morals and preserving the peace and dignity of the State. In “The Emancipation of Massachusetts,” Brooks Adams relates how the clergy of that colony “used the cry of heresy to excite odium, just as they called their opponents Antinomians, or dangerous fanatics.” To stir up the people against them. “Though the scheme was unprincipled,” says Mr. Adams, “it met with complete success, and the Antinomians have come down to posterity branded as deadly enemies of Christ and the commonwealth; yet nothing is more certain than that they were not only good citizens, but substantially orthodox.” Of course the motive of the clergy was wholly religious, yet they made it appear that while they were concerned for what they regarded as the true faith they were equally interested in the welfare of the colony. Henry Dunster, the first president of Harvard College, did not believe in infant baptism, and for this he was indicted and convicted on the charge of disturbing church ordinances. The disturbance was as real as is the disturbance charged in Tennessee against Seventh-day Adventists—it was all in the minds of those, who, having control of legislation, were determined that the civil power should be used in support, to some extent at least, of their tenets. Dunster was driven out as an enemy of the commonwealth, and died in poverty and neglect.

In 1651, John Cotton denounced certain Baptists as “foul murtherers” because they denied infant baptism. And in “The Emancipation of Massachusetts” page 116, we are told that under the Puritan Commonwealth, the moment a man “refused implicit obedience, or above all, if he withdrew from his congregation he was shown no mercy, because such acts tended to shake the temporal power.” “Therefore,” says the same writer, page 118, “though Winslow solemnly protested before the commissioners at London that Baptists who lived peaceably would be left unmolested, yet such of them as listened to ‘foul murtherers’ were denounced as dangerous fanatics who threatened to overthrow the government, and were hunted through the country like wolves.”

Regarding the facility with which civil offenses were for religious reasons charged in Massachusetts against dissenters, Charles Francis Adams says:—

A species of sweep-net was now needed which should bring the followers no less than the leaders under the ban of law. The successful prosecution of Wheelwright afforded the necessary hint. Wheelwright had been brought within the clutches of the civil authorities by a species of ex post facto legal chicanery. Even his most bitter opponents did not pretend to allege that he had preached his Fast day sermon with the intent to bring about any disturbance of the peace. They only claimed that his utterances tended to make such a result probable, and that his own observation ought to have convinced him of the fact. Therefore, they argued, although it was true that no breach of the peace had actually taken place and although the preacher had no intent to excite to a breach of the peace, yet he was none the less guilty of constructive sedition. Constructive sedition was now made to do the same work in New England which constructive treason, both before and after, was made to do elsewhere. 674

But it mattered not that Wheelwright could be accused only by legal fiction, and that an extremely attenuated one. Mr. Adams thus relates the sequel:—

The court being now purged of all his friends Coddington only excepted, Wheelwright’s case was taken up. He appeared in answer to the summons; but, when asked if he was yet prepared to confess his errors, he stubbornly refused to do so, protesting his entire innocence of what was charged against him. He could not be induced to admit that he had been guilty either of sedition or of contempt, and he asserted that the doctrine preached by him in his Fast-day discourse was sound; while, as to any individual application which had been made of it, he was not accountable. Then followed a long wrangle, reaching far into the night and continued the next day, during which the natural obstinacy of Wheelwright’s temper must have been sorely tried. At his door was laid all the responsibility for all the internal dissensions of the province. He was the fruitful source of those village and parish ills; and every ground of complaint was gone over, from the lax response of Boston to the call for men for the Pequot war, to the slight put by his church upon Wilson, and halberdiers upon Winthrop. To such an indictment defense was impossible; and so, in due time, the court proceeded to its sentence. It was disfranchisement and exile…. His sentence stands recorded as follows: “Mr. John Wheelwright, being formally convicted of contempt and sedition, and now justifying himself and his former practice, being to the disturbance of the civil peace, he is by the court disfranchised and banished, having fourteen days to settle his affairs; and if within that time he depart not the patent, he promiseth to render himself to Mr. Stoughton, at his house to be kept till he be disposed of; and Mr. Hough undertook to satisfy any charge that he, Mr. Stoughton, or the country should be at.” 675

Similar facts might be given at almost any length both in the history of Massachusetts and in that of England and other countries, but the reader can pursue the study for himself. Enough has been said to fully sustain the proposition that religious intolerance ever [196] seeks to hide its hideous face behind some civil law, and to justify its crimes against humanity on the ground of public necessity; but nobody is deceived except the poor bigots themselves. Everybody else knows full well the real motive.

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