網頁圖片
PDF
ePub 版

an information against the defendant for using blasphemous expressions, such as that Jesus Christ was a bastard, religion a cheat, &c. Lord. Chief Justice Hale said, that such kind of wicked, blasphemous words were not only an offence to God and religion, but a crime against the law, state, and government, and therefore punishable; for to say of religion that it is a cheat, is to dissolve all moral obligation, whereby civil societies are preserved; and Christianity is parcel of the law, and therefore to reproach the Christian religion is to speak in subversion of the law.

In the other case of the King o. Woolston, (Strange, II. 834,) the defendant was charged with using blasphemous discourses, denying the miracles of our Saviour. Lord Raymond, referring to the doctrine of Hale, says, that Christianity in general is parcel of the common law of England, and therefore to be protected by it. The Court said they desired it might be taken notice of, that they laid stress on the word general, and did not intend to include disputes between learned men upon controverted points. In another account of the same case, (Fitzgibbon, I. 64,) Lord Raymond is reported to have said, that he would have it taken notice of, " that we do not meddle with

any

differences of opinion, and that we only interpose where the root of Christianity itself is struck at."

Plainly, therefore, these cases do not prove that the particular doctrines of the Established Church are intended by the word Christianity. It is clear that they have no reference whatever to religious doctrine, and were cases in which the authority and evidences of the Christian religion were denied and reviled.

It is one thing to deny the scripturality of a particular tenet, and another to revile the Scriptures.

It is needless to go into an enumeration of all the cases which have been decided in the temporal courts on the subject of offences against Christianity; but I will undertake to state that this distinction pervades them all. I will quote only one or two of the late cases.

In the case of the King v. Wright, in the K. B., (1822,) the Lord Chief Justice Abbot said the defendant was not called upon to answer for any reasonable or fair discussion on the truth of Christianity in general, or any of its particular tenets : the law permitted that every subject should be fairly, yet moderately and temperately, discussed.

In the case of the King o. Taylor, (Oct. 24, 1827,) the

same learned judge said to the jury, that if it was proved to their satisfaction, that these passages were quoted from the Seriptures, and were uttered, not for the purpose

of an argument, or as a proposition for refutation or exposition, but, on the contrary, for the sake of sarcasm, and with an intention to gain the applause and approbation of his hearers, then it was his duty to tell them, that as a person uttering such expressions, the defendant was an offender against the law, and had subjected himself to its penalties. He (Lord Tenterden) should not be acting according to the duty he owed his conscience, or the duty required by the office which he held, if he did not tell them, that the Christian religion (he spoke not of any of the many sects into which opinion had divided it, bat the Christian religion in its substance) was a part of the law of the country, as perfectly inviolable in its substance, and as fully entitled to protection in every manner and degree, as our civil constitution itself.”

Mr. Justice Bayley, in passing sentence on the same defendant, (Feb. 7, 1828,) said, “ The law of this land I take to be liberal in principle in this respect, beyond the example of all other countries. It suffers every man freely, soberly, and quietly, to enter into the discussion of the most sacred and awful truths, and to judge for himself whether they be true or not. Not, as in some countries, is the book kept from the eyes of the public at large, but every individual has the power of having it in his own possession, and of judging for himself. He has the power of canvassing the foundation on which the religion of the country is based, and of entertaining that belief which a careful examination of the subject is fitted to produce. I blame no man--the law blames no man--for not coming to the conclusion to which the Established Religion of the country comes. It

may

be said that a man cannot controul his own belief-God alone may be able to influence bim in that respect, but no man has a right (by that which was anticipated in prophecy would be the result of future times) by sarcasm and sophistry to endeavour to shake the faith of others.'

Lord Mansfield, in the before-mentioned case of Evans v. the Chamberlain of London, thus expressed himself: "The Act of Toleration is not to be considered merely as an act of connivance and exemption from former laws : it was made that the public worship of the Dissenters might be

legal, and that they might be entitled to the public protection."

He also said, that “Nonconformity is rendered by that act not only innocent but lawful,” and that the protecting clauses of the statute “have put it pot merely under the connivance, but under the protection of the law, HAVE ESTABLISHED IT." See Appendix to Furneaux's Letters; Burn's Ecclesiastical Law, II., title Dissenters; and Harrison v. Evans, (in error,) Bro. Parl. Cas., VI. 181.

The learned Judge (on whose opinions I am commenting) proceeds : “ There can be no doubt (at least so I apprehend), that prior to this statute, (9 and 10 Williaın,) blasphemy was an offence punishable at common law; and it is impossible to contend (as it appears to me), that (whether the preamble is, or is not, to be takeu as ground of ascertaining that the doctrine reprobated in the enacting parts amounts to blasphemy, on which it does not become me to give an opinion) the penalties inflicted by the statute give any foundation for supposing that there could no longer exist a punishment for blasphemy at common law independent of the statute. On the coutrary, the cominon law is left by the statute exactly as it was before the statute passed."

On this passage I would ask, who ever denied that there exists at cominon law, independent of the statute, a punishment for blasphemy? The learned Judge must know that no such doctrine was ever contended for. But the question is, what evidence is there to shew that

any

of the offences stated in the act were blasphemy at the common law ? Blasphemy is defined by Sir William Blackstone to be“ the denial of the being or providence of the Almighty; or contumelious reproaches of our Saviour Christ," whither, he continues, " may be referred all profane scoffing at the Holy Scripture, or exposing it to contempt and ridicule" (Comm., IV. 59); aod every other writer on crown law defines the offence of blasphemy in the same manner. But not a word is said as to the denial of the doctrine of the Trinity, or of any other doctrine being blasphemy. The idea that it is so, appears to me to be an assumption, unsupported by reason or authority. The term blasphemous in the Act of Parliament was evidently used as a term of reprobation, and without regard to its strict technical sense ;

and it is difficult to understand how so obvious a circumstance could have escaped the observation of any enlightened man, not desirous of contracting the limits of

[ocr errors]

religious liberty. It seems absurd to consider the language of either the preamble or the enacting part of the statute 9 and 10 William III., as proving that the offences therein mentioned were offences at common law. It appears to prove nothing more than that the Legislature at that time thought proper to check the opinions referred to by inflicting temporal punishments. It would be as reasonable to maintain, that every offence which the Legislature has thought fit to render criminal, was, therefore, already criminal by the common law; and I maintain, that by the same train of reasoning by which it is insisted that the denial of the doctrine of the Trinity is illegal at common law, it may also be shewn to be now illegal at common law, to deny the doctrine of Transubstantiation, or any of the other principal doctrines of the Roman Catholic religion. But no reason can be given why the language of the recital and enactment of the repealed statute should be taken to be more strongly indicative of legislative intention on the subject of the denial of the doctrine of the Trinity, than that of the statute, 53 Geo. III. c. 160, by which it was repealed. Is it not rather to be concluded that governments, like individuals, acquire wisdom from experience; and that the later enactment is more strongly illustrative of legislative opinion than the older one, especially as the older statute was a violation of the eter: nal and immutable rights of human nature ?

In some of the statutes repealed by the Toleration Act, Nonconformity is stigmatized as felonious. therefore, be contended” (asks Mr. Merivale, in a note subjoined to his report of the case in question), “that although those statutes are repealed, yet their language must be taken as declaratory of the common law; and that Bonconformity, therefore, not only was then, but remains to this day, a felony ?"

From all these considerations, it appears clearly to me that Unitarian Dissenters are, by the operation of the 53rd Geo. III. c. 160, placed in the same state, in every respect, as all other Protestant Dissenters were in by virtue of the Act of Toleration, 1 William and Mary, c. 10; and that the denial of the doctrine of the Trinity is not, either by common law or statute, any longer an offence in the eye of the law.

No shadow of authority has been or can be shewn to prove that the worship of the Supreme Being according to

6. Will it,

[merged small][ocr errors]

Unitarian principles, was ever illegal. Lord Mansfeld, in the case of Evans v. the Chamberlain of London, to which I have before alluded, says,

“ There never was a single instance, from the Saxon times to our own, in which a man was ever punished for erroneous opinions concerning rites and modes of worship, but upon some positive law. The common law of England, which is ouly common reason or usage, knows of no prosecution for mere opinions. For Atheism, blasphemy, and reviling the Christian religion, there have been instances of persons being prosecuted and punished upon the common law, but bare nonconformity is no sin by the common law."

The Act of Toleration, 1 William and Mary, c. 18, excepts from its operation, persons who should deny in their preaching or writing the doctrine of the Trinity, as it is declared in the Articles of Religion ; and the act of 9 and 10 William III, is aimed against persons who, by writing, printing, teaching, or advised speaking, deny the doctrines therein mentioned. There is a wide distinction between the act of worship and the inculcation of doctrine. This distinction is exemplified in the case of Mendes Da Costa o. De Pays (Ambl. 227, and Ves. jun. VII. 76), where the Lord Chancellor held a devise for the establishment of an assembly for the reading of the Jewish law for ever to be illegal, because it was for propagation of the Jewish law in contradiction to the Christian religion ; yet synagogues and Jewish worship are protected by the law. (Israel v. Simmons, Stark. II. 356.)

The opinions on which I have animadverted, it is true, are not entitled to the character and authority of judicial determinations, because, confessedly, they were not necessary to the decision of the particular case in which they were delivered; but they are so extraordinary, and SO dangerous, that I could not but consider it important to examine whether Unitarian Dissenters are really proscribed and reprobated by the law, liable to the prosecution of every malignant or interested bigot, or entitled to its protection.

The immediate principle involved in the determination of this case is much more limited and confined, though still very important. The only point which it seems to have been absolutely necessary to decide, is, whether an endowment for the worship and service of Almighty God, made during the period between the statutes 1 William and

« 上一頁繼續 »