IT is the divine right of every man to believe or not believe, to be religious or not religious, as he shall choose for himself. God himself, in Jesus Christ, has said: “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. He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him; the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day.” John 12:47, 48. Thus the God of heaven, the Author of Christianity, has left every soul free to believe or not believe, to to [sic.] receive or reject, his words, as the man may choose for himself. And when any man chooses not to believe, and chooses to reject his word, the Lord does not condemn him.
Whoever, therefore, would presume to exercise jurisdiction over the religious belief or observances of any man, or would compel any man to conform to the precepts of any religion, or to comply with the ceremonies of any religious body, or would condemn any man for not so complying, does in that thing put himself above Jesus Christ, and, indeed, above God, for he exercises a prerogative which God himself refuses to exercise.
The word of God is the word of life. To whomsoever that word comes, whosoever heareth it, to him in that word there comes life from God—eternal life. Then he who rejects that word rejects life. He who rejects life does in that very thing choose death. And he who chooses death by the rejection of life does in that pass judgment of death upon himself. And so it stands written, “It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken to you; but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life,” etc. Acts 13:46. Thus it is that God judges no man for rejecting his word; and this is how it is that that word shall judge men in the last day. “In that day” that word of life will stand there as the witness to all that eternal life came to all, but was rejected, and nothing but death remains. And when the death is received, each one receives simply what he has chosen, and in that the God of love does not condemn, but is sorry instead.
Now to the Christian church is committed this word of life as she is sent into the world. She is to “preach the word.” To her it is written, Do all things without murmurings and disputings; that ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world; holding forth the word of life.” Philippians 2:14-16. Thus the true Church is in the world “in Christ’s stead,” (2 Corinthians 5:20), to hold forth, to bring to men, the word of life. In so doing she judges no one, she condemns no one, she sets at naught no one, for she “is subject unto Christ” in everything (Ephesians 5:24), and he ever says, “If any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge [condemn] him not.”
In this word of Christ also establishes the divine right of every man, at his own free choice, to dissent from, and to disregard in every way, any doctrine, dogma, ordinance, rite, or institution of any church on earth. And no man can ever rightly be molested or disquieted in any way whatever in the free exercise of this divine right.
A Subtle Subterfuge
Professedly this right has always been recognized by both Catholicism and the different sects of Protestantism, but in nearly every instance the profession of recognition of the right has been only a pretense; for, while professing to recognize the right in one way, in another way, and by a sheer subterfuge, it has been denied and attempt made to sweep it entirely away. This subterfuge is for the church to get her dogmas or institutions recognized in the law, and then demand obedience to the law, throwing upon the dissenter the odium of “lawlessness and disrespect for the constituted authorities,” while she poses as the champion of “law and order,” the “conservator of the State, and the stay of society”!
Of all the hypocritical pretenses that were ever employed, this is perhaps the subtlest, and is certainly the meanest. It fourished throughout the Middle Ages, when anything and everything that the Church could invent was thus forced upon the people. Its slimy trail can be traced throughout the history of the “Protestant” sects, in thus forcing upon the people such peculiar institutions as were characteristic of the sect that could obtain  control of the law. And now it is made to flourish again, by all the sects together, in thus forcing upon the people the one thing in which they are all agreed, and in which they have obtained control of the law, 543 the observance of Sunday, “the Christian sabbath,” supported by such auxiliary organizations, such wheels within wheels, as the National Reform Association, the American Sabbath Union, the “Law and Order Leagues,” the “Civic Federations,” W.C.T.U., Y.M.C.A., Y.P.S.C.E., and so on through the rest of the alphabet.
Sunday, not only according to their own showing, but by every other fair showing that can be made, is a religious institution, a church institution, only. This they all know as well as they know anything. And yet every one of these organizations, principal or auxiliary, is working constantly to get this church institution fixed, and more firmly fixed, in the law, with penalties attached that are more worthy of barbarism than of civilization; and then, when anybody objects to it, they all cry out that “it is not a question of religion; it is simply a question of law. We are not asking any religious observance; all that we ask is respect for law”!!
The Christian, Protestant, and American answer to all this is that neither the Sunday institution nor any other religious or ecclesiastical institution, has any right to a place in the law, this does not take away the right of dissent. The divine right of dissent from religious or ecclesiastical institutions abides ever the same, whether the institution is out of the law or in the law. And when the institution is fixed in the law, the right of dissent then extends to that law. The subterfuge cannot destroy the right.
The Courts Indorse the Subterfuge.
From the church organizations the courts have caught up this cry. And, though acknowledging that the Sunday institution is religious; that it is enacted and enforced at the will of the church; and that the logic of it is the union of Church and State; yet they insist that, as it is in the law, and the law is for the public good, no right of dissent can be recognized, but the dissenter “may be made to suffer for his defiance by persecutions, if you call them so, on the part of the great majority.” 544
This argument is as old as is the contest for the right of the free exercise of religious belief. It was the very position occupied by Rome when the disciples of Christ were sent into the world to preach religious freedom to all mankind. Religious observances were enforced by the law. The Christians asserted and maintained the rights to dissent from all such observances, and, in fact, from every one of the religious observances of Rome, and to believe religiously for themselves, though in so doing they totally disregard the laws, which, on the part of the Roman State, were held to be beneficial to the population. Then, as now, it was held that, though religious belief was the foundation of the custom, yet this was no objection to it, because it had become a part of the legal system of the government, and was enforced by the State for its own good. 545 But Christianity then refused to recognize any validity in any such argument, and so it does now.