FREEDOM of conscience is something that hardly needs to be defined to any person of intelligence, old or young. All persons have a conscience, and each conscience should be left free to dictate the conduct of its possessor.
Conscience is our natural monitor. Its office is given it by the Creator. The person who is not guided in his conduct by conscience, is not a safe person to be at liberty.
This does not mean that conscience may not become perverted, so as to become an unsafe guide. The Creator himself is the ultimate Guide of mankind, and conscience is designed to act always in harmony with him.
He has given to mankind his revealed will—the Bible—and his Spirit is continually striving with men, to lead them in the pathway of right and truth.
This is included in the provisions of God’s government. There is a government of God on earth, as well as a government of man.
“The Lord hath prepared his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom ruleth over all.” This statement of Scripture includes the earth as well as all other portions of the universe.
God’s government on the earth is not a visible government like those of the nations; but it is none the less a reality. And it is the highest government upon the earth. It is universal, and to it every person owes allegiance.
The governments of men are instituted to protect rights. The object of God’s government includes this, but it aims at that which is vastly higher—the development of a perfect character.
The free exercise of conscience is absolutely essential to the government of God. Without this the purpose of his government cannot be realized. When it is taken away from a person, the government of God comes to an end with that individual, until it is restored.
Hence when an earthly government sets up a state conscience, as we may call it; that is, when the state dictates to an individual in regard to his religious conduct, the state sets itself squarely against the government of God.
Earthly governments are a necessity: and we should give to those in authority the most willing honor and obedience. But as Christians, we must remember that God has also a government in the earth to which we owe supreme allegiance. We cannot maintain this allegiance to God’s government when we go contrary to the dictates of conscience. No person can discard his conscience  without at the same time discarding his allegiance to God.
God’s government on the earth is not now what it was in the beginning, when the earth and man were created. It is the same in principle, but it is different in form. This change in form was made necessary by the fall.
When sin came into the world, man became in his very nature contrary to God and prone to violate the laws upon which God’s government is established. God then withdrew his visible presence from men, because, having become sinners, they could not dwell with him and live. No sin can abide in God’s presence.
Instead, then, of having God as a visible ruler and source of authority, men had only themselves for visible rulers, and were obliged to set up some government of their own. Yet for a long time they acknowledged that God was the real ruler, and that their earthly rulers were but acting in the capacity of God’s agents.
Finally, however, in the days of the mighty hunter, Nimrod, they disclaimed God as their ruler, and set up independent governments of their own. Acknowledging no higher ruler than the state, they virtually put the state in the place of God; and in process of time earthly rulers came to be deified and worshiped as gods.
This would not have happened if men had maintained their allegiance to God’s government, as still set up on the earth in the realm of conscience. The governments of the earth have no rightful concern with conscience. They cannot have, because they are administered by finite, sinful men, and are in no way fitted to direct conscience.
They are fitted, however, to maintain the rights of individuals, so that people can live in the enjoyment of peace and civil liberty; and in so doing these governments are in perfect harmony with the government of God.
But when they try to dictate to the consciences of men, they usurp the place of God’s government, and set up finite, sinful man as a being to be worshiped.
To allow freedom of conscience is to recognize that there is a higher government on the earth than the civil governments,—the government of God. To interfere with this right is to interfere with God’s government, and also to turn civil government out of its proper channel, and bring it to a disastrous end.