網頁圖片
PDF
ePub 版

the particular pastor whose morals he would make his pattern, and whose powers he feels most persuasive to righteousness, and is withdrawing from the ministry those temporary rewards which, proceeding from an approbation of their personal conduct, are an additional incitement to earnest and unremitting labors for the instruction of mankind; that our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions; that therefore the proscribing any citizen as unworthy the public confidence by laying upon him an incapacity of being called to offices of trust and emolument unless he possesses or renounces 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; that it tends only to corrupt the principles of that religion which it is meant to encourage, by bribing with a monopoly of worldly honors and emoluments those who will externally profess and conform to it; that though, indeed, those are criminal who do not withstand such temptation, yet neither are those innocent who lay the bait in their way; that to suffer the civil magistrate to intrude his powers into the field of opinion, and to restrain the profession or propagation of principles, on supposition of their ill tendency, is a dangerous fallacy, which at once destroys all religious liberty, because he, being of course judge of that tendency, will make his own opinions the rule of judgment, and approve or condemn the sentiments of others only as they shall square with or differ from his own; that it is time enough, for the rightful purposes of civil government, for its officers to interfere when principles break out into open acts against peace and good order; and, finally, that truth is great and will prevail, if left to herself; that she is the proper and sufficient antagonist to error, and has nothing to fear from the conflict, unless, by human interposition, disarmed of her natural weapons, free argument and debate-errors ceasing to be dangerous when it is permitted to contradict them. And whereas a principal object of our venerable ancestors in their migration to this country and settlement of this State was, as they expressed it,'to hold forth a lively experiment, that a most flourishing civil state may stand, and best be maintained with a full liberty in religious concernments:' Be it therefore enacted by the General Assembly, and by the authority thereof it is enacted, that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or minister whatever; nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burdened in his body or goods; nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to possess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion; and that the same shall in nowise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities." (Laws of R. I. 1798, p. 81.)

The same principles, in almost the same words, are enunciated in the present Constitution of Rhode Island. (Art. 1, sec. 3.) After being “fourteen weeks sorely tossed in a bitter season, not knowing what bread or bed did mean,” at last, in June, 1636, the exiled Roger Williams, with five companions, embarked in a frail Indian canoe to find and found a home for religious liberty. Tradition has marked the spring near which they landed: it is the parent spot, the first inhabited nook of Rhode Island. This place Williams called Providence. “I desired,” said he, “it might be for a shelter for persons distressed for conscience,” (1 Bancft. 379 ;) and such a shelter it very soon became. At a time when Germany was a battle-field for all Europe in the implacable wars of religion; when even Holland was bleeding with the anger of vengeful factions; when France was still to go through the fearful struggle with bigotry; when England was gasping under the despotism of intolerance; almost half a century before William Penn became an American proprietary; two years before Descartes founded modern philosophy on the method of free reflection, (1 Bancft. 375;) and nearly a whole century before any of the older American colonies stopped branding, cutting off the ears, boring the tongue with a red-hot iron, banishing, and putting to death for conscience sake-Roger Williams asserted the great doctine of religious liberty, and suffered sorely for it; but afterward had the satisfaction of laying the foundation of an independent state, based on the broad principles of civil and religious liberty, such as the world till then had never seen.

Nearly two centuries and a half have passed away since the settlement of Rhode Island, but the people hold fast to their first principles. The spirit so manifest in the laws we have cited is the spirit of their laws in general. In their schools religious liberty is practiced, inculcated, and protected by law. No teacher or scholar is proscribed there on account of religious opinions.

“Shall I ask the brave soldier who fights by my side,

In the cause of mankind, if our creeds agree?
Shall I give up the friend I have valued and tried,

If he kneel not before the same altar with me?
From the heretic girl of my soul shall I fly,

To seek somewhere else a more orthodox kiss ?
No! perish the hearts, and the laws that try

Truth, valor, or love, by a standard like this."

CHAPTER III.

OF RELIGION IN SCHOOLS AS THE LAW IS.

“ Slave to no sect, who takes no private road,
But looks through nature up to nature's God.”

SEC. 1. RHODE ISLAND, continued.--As this little State is to be regarded as the pioneer, at least in this country, of what is now known as “religious liberty," we give it more attention than its geographical position or territorial extent would otherwise appear to require. On this particular subject the laws of Rhode Island merit a full explanation, both as to their letter and spirit. The Constitution and laws of this State (ch. 2, sec. 8) give no power to a school committee, nor is there any authority in the State, by which the reading of the Bible or praying in school, either at the opening or at the close, can be commanded and enforced. On the other hand, the spirit of the Constitution and the neglect of the law to specify any penalties for so opening and closing a school, or to appoint or allow any officer to take notice of such an act, do as clearly show that there can be no compulsory exclusion of such reading and praying from the

« 上一頁繼續 »