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leaving them as they found them. The same convention, however, when they met as a member of the general assembly in October, 1776, repealed all acts of parliament which had rendered criminal the maintaining any opinions in matters of religion, the forbearing to repair to church, and the exercising any mode of wor. ship; and suspended the laws giving salaries to the clergy, which suspension was made perpetual in October 1779. Statutory oppressions in religion being thus wiped away, we remain at present under those only imposed by the common law, or by our own acts of assembly. At the common law, heresy was a capital offence, punishable by burning. Its defini. tion was lest to the ecclesiastical judges, be. fore whom the conviction was, till the statute of the 1 El. c. 1. circumscribed it by declaring, that nothing should be deemed heresy, but what had been so determined by authority of the can. onical scriptures, or by one of the four first general councils, or by other council having for the grounds of their declaration the express and plain words of the scriptures. Heresy, thus circumscribed, being an offence at the common law our act of assembly of October, 1777, c. 17. gives cognizance of it to the general court, by declaring, that the jurisdiction of that court shall be general in all matters at the common law. The execution is by the writ De hæretico comburendo. By our own act of assembly of 1705,c. 30. if a person brought up in the Chris. tian religion denies the being of a God, or the
Trinity, or asserts there are more gods than one, or denies the Christian religion to be true, or
the scriptures to be of divine authority, he is punishable on the first offence by incapacity to hold any office or employment eeclesiastical, civil, or military ; on the second by disability to sue, to take any gift or legacy, to be guar. dian, executor, or administrator, and by three years imprisonment without bail. A father's right to the custody of his own children being founded in law on his right of guarslianship, this being taken away, they may of course be severed from him, and put by the authority of the court, into more orthodox hands. This is a summary view of that religious slavery, under which a people have been willing to remain, who have lavished their lives and fortunes for the establishment of their civil freedom. *The error seems not sufficiently eradicated, that the operations of the mind, as well as the acts of the body, are subject to the coercion of the laws. But our rulers can have no authority over such natural rights, only as we have submitted to them. The rights of conscience we never submitted, we could not submit. We are answer. able for them to our God. The legitimate pow. ers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg. If it be said, his testimony in a court of justice cannot be relied on, reject it then, and be the stigma on him. Constraint may make him worse by making him a hypocrite, but it will never make him a truer man.
* Turncaux passim.
It may fix him obstinately in his errors, but will not cure them. Reason and free enquiry are the only effectual agents against error. Give a loose to them, they will support the true religion, by bringing every false one to their tribu. nal, to the test of their investigation. They are the natural enemies of error, and of error only. Had not the Roman government permitted free enquiry, christianity could never have been introduced. Had not free enquiry been indulged at the æra of the reformation, the corruptions of christianity could not have been purged away. If it be restrained now, the present corruptions will be protected and new ones encouraged. Was the government to prescribe to us our medicine and diet, our bodies would be in such keeping as our souls are now. Thus in France the emetic was once forbidden as a medicine, and the potatoe as an article of food. Government is just as infallible too when it fixes systems in physics. Galileo was sent to the Inquisition for affirming that the earth was a sphere: the government had declared it to be as flat as a trencher, and Galileo was obliged to abjure his error. This error how. ever at length prevailed, the earth became a globe, and Descartes declared it was whirled round its axis by a vortex. The government in which he lived was wise enough to see that this was no question of civil jurisdi&tion, or we should all have been involved by authority in vortices. In fact the vortices, have been exploded, and the Newtonian principle of gravi. tation is now more firmly established, on the basis of reason, than it would be were the go
vernment to step in, and to make it an article of necessary faith.
Reason and experiment have been indulged, and error has fled before them. It is error alone which needs the support of government. Truth can stand by itself. Subject opinion to coercion : whom will you make your inquisitors ? Fallible men; men go. verned by bad passions, by private as well as public reasons. And why subject it to coercion? To produce uniformity. But is uniformity of opinion desirable ? No more than of face and stature. Introduce the bed of Procrustes then, and as there is danger that the large men may beat the small, make us all of a size, by lopping th: former and stretching the latter. Difference of opinion is advantageous in religion. The several sects perform the office of a censor morum over each other. Is uniformity attainable ? Millions of innocent inen, women, and children, since the introduction of Christianity, have been burnt, tortured, fined, imprisoned ; yet we have not advanced one inch towards unifor. mity. What has been the effect of coercion ? To make one half of the world fools, and the other half hypocrites. To support roguery
and error all over the earth. Let us reflect that it is inhabited by a thousand millions of people. That these profess probably a thousand different systems of religion. That ours is but one of that thousand. That if there be but one right, and ours that one, we should wish to see the 999 wandering sects gathered into the fold of truth. But against such a majority we can. not effect this by force. Reason and persua. sion are the only practicable instruments. To
make way for these, free inquiry must be in. dulged; and how can we wish others to in. dulge it while we refuse it ourselves. But
every statc, says an inquisitor, has established some religion. No two, say I, have established the
Is this a proof of the infallibility of establishments? Our sister states of Pennsylvania and New York, however, have long subsist. ed without any establisment at all. The expe. riment was new and doubtful when they made it. It has answered beyond conception. They fiourish infinitely. Religion is well supported; of various kinds, indeed, but all good enough; all sufficient to preserve peace and order: or if a sect arises, whose tenets would subvert mor. als, good sense has fair play, and reasons and laughs it out of doors, without suffering the state to be troubled with it. They do not hang more malefactors than we do. They are not more disturbed with religious dissentions. On the contrary, their harmony is unparalleled, and can be ascribed to nothing but their unbounded tolerance, because there is no other circum. stance in which they differ from every nation on earth. They have made the happy discovery, that the way to silence religious disputes, is to take no notice of them. Let us too give this experiment fair play, and get rid while we may, of those tyrannical laws.
It is true, we are as yet secured against them by the spirit of the times. I doubt whether the people of this country would suffer an execution for heresy, or a three years imprisonment for not comprehending the mysteries of the Trinity. Bút is the spirit of the people an infallible, a perma.