« EdellinenJatka »
country is not for the extension of her unwieldy possessions, or the brilliancy of her evanescent glories—but that she may increase in virtue, pure religion, and internal happiness—that she may be secured by union from external dangers—and be the means of diffusing the mised blessings of universal peace, order, and happiness, to a grateful and an admiring world.
With such feelings, my Christian brethren, you will behold with wonder and alarm a large body of your countrymen excluded from serving the State, becoming daily more uneasy under their supposed fetters, and more alienated from those who refuse to break them. When nothing but a spirit of union and harmony-nothing but an ardor, which none but freemen can ever feel-nothing but the devotion of every soul, and the kindred feeling of every heart, can insure the stability of Britain, it becomes a question of the most solemn import, whether we are to be deprived of the talents of a large part of the population -to hear their discontent rising in suppressed, but awful, murmurs--and perhaps to incur the guilt of persecution in the name of the God of Love. An empire kneeling asks for her rights—she appeals to our justice, our policy, and our faith-she points to the wounds she has suffered for us--and shall we proudly refuse to listen to her com. plaints, or seriously to consider her petitions ?
It is with the hope of calling your attention to this important question, that I now presume to address you. The following plain arguments are not offered to the high church zealot, or flaming partizan of one establishment, which he may fear to oppose to another of higher antiquity--not to those who are perhaps too nearly related to the Catholics to be their friends--not to the corrupt and worldly, who only care for the paltry honors of a court-nor to the intolerant bigot, who can hear of no toleration but for his own opinions - but to you, who know the value of religious freedom from its loss—to you, who profess a superiority over the world to you, who are bound by every tie of consistency and interest to support the claims of your brethren. In addressing you, to enter. deeply into the abstract principles of liberty of conscience, would be unnecessary; you have received them with your earliest impressions, and they beat on every string that vibrates in your bosom ; ennobling your best feelings, and consecrating your finest sympathies : all I shall do will be to show the bearing of this particular case on those general propositions you have so often and so nobly de. fended.
In order to do this as clearly and concisely as possible, I shall aim at establishing the following proposi- . tions :
1st. That all civil disqualifications for opinions merely
religious, partake of the nature of persecution, and
are as impolitic as unjust. Indly. That the opinions of the Catholics are of this de.
scription-and that they are in the same situation
with ourselves. 3dly. That our duty as Christians, our interest as Dis
senters, and our feelings as Patriots, form irresistible arguments to induce us to support the great cause in which they are laboring.
1st. Disqualifications for offices on account of religious opinions, is indirect persecution.
Educated as we have been in the principles of indepen. dence and religious freedom, we recoil with horror at the idea of the puny arm of a mortal grasping the thunders of Heaven, and “clad in a little brief authority” invading the sacred province of the Almighty. We ridicule the project of laying fetters on the mind, or compelling it to receive a different train of ideas from that which it involuntarily receives. History has taught us the terrific consequences of a system more foolish than the fabled design of the Giants, of scaling the abodes of the Gods. Too well we know, that when the presumptuous pile, founded on the blood of heroic martyrs, has reached its most lofty eminence, it has sunk by its own cumbrous weight, and, like the mountains in the story to which we have just alluded, has buried its wretched and aspiring builders beneath its ruins. What is it that has defiled the purity of religion, and reduced it to contempt? What is it that has oppressed the world with ignorance, tyranny, and superstition? What is it that has polluted the altars of Christ with the corruptions of Moloch, and stained them with the blood of his followers ? The desire of an empire over the conscience, of a dominion over the reason and the thoughts, and of an impious equality with the God who gave them.
If such have been the effects of bigotry, how carefully should we watch over it in its first and gentlest forms; how fearful of recognising a principle from which the most awful consequences may finally arise ! Let us seriously in
quire what this principle is, and whether it always necessarily operates in chains, tortures, and death.
Religious liberty is the freedom to discuss, receive, and profess, any principles purely speculative; not only unmolested in the immediate act of worship, but unpunished for the exercise. Its grand foundation is—that no earthly power has a right to interfere with the conscience, which is the province of God alone and that therefore all pains and penalties inflicted merely on account of difference in sentiment, are, in their nature, impious and unjust. When earthly rulers speak of tolerating a religion, they directly assert their right to suspend that favor when they please ; and, at any time, to punish that which they now suffer. That which needs toleration by the governors of a society, must be an offence, and an offence, too, against society; and as such, though for a time it may be allowed or winked at, as contraband commerce sometimes is, it is liable, whenever the tolerating party think their policy requires it, to be punished as a crime in any way which may appease their passions, quiet their fears, or gratify their malevolence. This is exactly the state of the Catholics and of ourselves. From motives of pure benignity, our worship is allowed-our rulers most graciously permit the Lord of Heaven to receive our prayers-and in return for granting us as a favor what we feel to be a right, they take away part of another right; and for this kind toleration we are called to be thankful, and with its blessings to sit down in security and content.
Our worship is allowed on condition of our submitting to certain penalties; that is, in other words, it is prohibited under certain inconveniences to be undergone by those who profess it. The case stands plainly thus-Is it, or is it not, the birth-right of every man in a free State, to aspire to certain offices, towards the maintenance of which he is compelled to contribute ? Is not this as much secured to him, as his personal freedom? Is not the taking away of this right a real injury, and degradation? If, therefore, it be done on account of religious opinions, is not this as much in reality persecution, as if his personal freedom were vio. lated for the same reason ? If it be true, that Governments have a right to press upon an individual with the least inconvenience, on account of speculative opinions of one kind, they have a right to inflict positive penalties on another set of opinions they regard as more criminal :' and if the exigencies of the State seem to them to require it, to visit the crimes of heresy, according to their degrees of blackness, with degradation, fine, imprisonment, and death!
Let us not then be told that we have complete religious freedom, because we can exercise our worship without immediate molestation, and that it is political power for which we are laboring. The fact is, that by our exclusion from this political power, to contend for which is the right of every good citizen, a principle is asserted on the part of those who withhold the boon, which may, at their will, deprive us of the privileges we now enjoy. While
? As is actually the case with all who deny the doctrine of the Trinity.