October 6, 1892
THAT challenge of Senator Hawley’s on the question of religion and the Government, referred to in these columns last week, is worth considering for itself alone. Here is the challenge:—
Now if gentlemen … deny that this is in the true sense of the word a religious Nation, I should like to see the disclaimer put in white and black and proposed by the Congress of the United States. Write it. How would you write it? … Word it if you dare; advocate it if you dare.
HOW would we write it? We would write it as President Washington wrote it in the supreme law of the land—“The Government of the United States is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion.”
WE would write it as our fathers wrote it in the Constitution of the United States—“No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States;” and, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
WE would write it as James Madison spoke it—“There is not a shadow of right in the general Government to intermeddle with religion. Its least interference with it would be a most flagrant usurpation.”
WE would write it as Thomas Jefferson wrote it—“The impious presumption of legislators and rulers, civil as well as ecclesiastical, who have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavoring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world and through all time. The prescribing any citizen as unworthy the public confidence by laying upon him an incapacity of being called to the offices of trust and emolument, unless he profess or renounce this or that religious opinion, is depriving him injuriously of those privileges and advantages to which, in common with his fellow-citizens, he has a natural right; and tends also to corrupt the principles of that very religion it is meant to encourage, by bribing, with a monopoly of worldly honors and emoluments, those who will externally profess and conform to it.”
WE would write it as both Madison and Jefferson wrote it, when, in the State of Virginia, another combination of religious bigots demanded legislation in favor of what they called “the Christian religion.” And this is how they wrote it—“We remonstrate against the said bill: Because we hold it for a fundamental and undeniable truth that religion, or the duty which we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence. The religion, then, of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate. This right is in its nature an unalienable right. It is unalienable, because the opinions of men, depending only on the evidence contemplated in their own minds, can not follow the dictates of other men.
“Because the bill implies either that the civil magistrate is a competent judge of religious truths, or that he may employ religion as an engine of civil policy. The first is an arrogant pretension; the second, an unhallowed perversion of the means of salvation.
“Because during almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. More or less, in all places, pride and indolence in the clergy; ignorance and servility in the laity; in both, superstition, bigotry, and persecution.
“Because the establishment in question is not necessary for the support of civil government. What influence, in fact, have ecclesiastical establishments had on civil society? In some instances they have been seen to erect a spiritual tyranny on the ruins of civil authority; in many instances they have been seen upholding the thrones of political tyranny; in no instance have they been seen the guardians of the liberties of the people. Rulers who wished to subvert the public liberty may have found in established clergy convenient auxiliaries. A just government, instituted to secure and perpetuate it, needs them not.
“Because the proposed establishment is a departure from that generous policy which, offering an asylum to the persecuted and oppressed of every nation and religion. What a melancholy mark is this bill, of sudden degeneracy! Instead of holding forth an asylum to the persecuted, it is itself a signal of persecution. It degrades from the equal rank of citizens all those whose opinions in religion do not bend to those the legislative authority. Distant as it may be in its present form from the Inquisition, it differs from it only in degree. The one is the first step, the other is the last in the career of intolerance.
“Because, finally, either, then, we must say that the will of the Legislature is the only measure of their authority, and that in the plenitude of that authority, they may sweep away all our fundamental rights, or that they are bound to leave this particular right untouched and sacred. Either we must say that they may control the freedom of the press, may abolish the trial by jury, may swallow up the executive and judiciary powers of the State—nay, that they may despoil us of our very rights of suffrage, and erect  themselves into an independent and hereditary assembly, or we must say that they have no authority to enact into a law the bill under consideration.
“We say that the General Assembly of this Commonwealth have no such authority. And in order that no effort may be omitted on our part against so dangerous a usurpation, we oppose to it this remonstrance.”
WE would write it as Roger Williams wrote it—“Magistrates are but the agents of the people or its trustees, on whom no spiritual power in matters of worship can ever be conferred, since conscience belongs to the individual and is not the property of the body politic. The power of the civil magistrate extends to the bodies and goods and outward estate of men.”
WE would write it as Martin Luther wrote it for Protestantism, in the memorable Augsburg Confession—“The civil administration is occupied about other matters, than is the gospel. The magistracy does not defend the souls, but the bodies and bodily things, against manifest injuries; and coerces men by the sword and corporal punishments, that it may uphold civil justice and peace. Wherefore the ecclesiastical and the civil power are not to be confounded. The ecclesiastical power has its own command, to preach the gospel and to administer the sacraments. Let it not by force enter into the office of another; let it not transfer worldly kingdoms…. Let it not prescribe laws to the magistrate touching the form of the State; as Christ says, ‘My kingdom is not of this world.’ Again: ‘Who made me a judge or a divider over you?’ And Paul says, ‘Our conversation [citizenship] is in heaven.’ ‘The weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God, to the pulling down of strongholds; casting down imaginations.’ In this way ours distinguish between the duties of each power, one from the other.”
WE would write it as Jesus Christ commands it to be written—“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.” “Render therefore unto Cesar the things that are Cesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s.”
THUS would we “write it.” And thus would any man write it who cared for principle rather than policy. But although it might thus be written, so easily, so truly, and so forcibly, yet it stands as a literal fact that not a man in the Fifty-second Congress, either in the Senate or in the House dared to accept the challenge, and so to write it. Those who opposed it, did so in such an apologetic way, and so compromised the principle at stake, that their opposition seemed hardly more than a pretense. So that it stands literally true that the Fifty-second Congress did sell itself and the Government of the United States, both bodily, into the unholy hands of the threatening, boycotting, and unprincipled churches of the United States. And is it any wonder that they boast that they hold the Senate of the United States in their hands?
BUT let everybody know that to oppose it, to reject it, to utterly refuse to submit to it or respect it, is sound American principle; is sound American constitutional principle; is sound Protestant principle; and is sound Christian principle. The evil thing is anti-American, anti-Protestant, and anti-Christian. Opposition to it in any and all its forms, is Christianity. And he who has most of the spirit and love of Christianity will be the most uncompromisingly opposed to it. A. T. J.