One of the first rights to be protected in early America was the right of conscience – the right to believe differently on issues of religious faith. As John Quincy Adams explained, this right was a product of Christianity:
Jesus Christ. . . . came to teach and not to compel. His law was a Law of Liberty. He left the human mind and human action free.
Early American legal writer Stephen Cowell (1800-1872) agreed:
Nonconformity, dissent, free inquiry, individual conviction, mental independence, are forever consecrated by the religion of the New Testament.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt likewise declared:
We want to do it the voluntary way – and most human beings in all the world want to do it the voluntary way. We do not want to have the way imposed. . . . That would not follow in the footsteps of Christ.
The Scriptures teach that there will be differences of conscience (cf. 1 Corinthians 8) and that if an individual “wounds a weak conscience of another, you have sinned against Christ” (v. 12). We are therefore instructed to respect the differing rights of conscience (v. 13). (See also I Corinthians 10:27-29.) Extending toleration for the rights of conscience is urged throughout the New Testament. (See also Romans 14:3, 15:7, Ephesians 4:2, Colossians 3:13, etc.)
Leaders who knew the Scriptures therefore protected those rights. For example, in 1640, the Rev. Roger Williams established Providence, penning its governing document declaring:
We agree, as formerly hath been the liberties of the town, so still, to hold forth liberty of conscience.
Rev. Roger Williams
Similar protections also appear in the 1649 Maryland “Toleration Act,” the 1663 Charter for Rhode Island, the 1664 Charter for Jersey, the 1665 Charter for Carolina, the 1669 Constitutions of Carolina, the 1676 Charter for West Jersey, the 1701 Charter for Delaware, and the 1682 Frame of Government for Pennsylvania. John Quincy Adams affirmed that: “The transcendent and overruling principle of the first settlers of New England was conscience.”
Then when America separated from Great Britain in 1776 and the states created their very first state constitutions, they openly acknowledged Christianity and jointly secured religious toleration, non-coercion, and the rights of conscience. For example, the 1776 constitution of Virginia declared:
That religion, or the duty which we owe to our Creator and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence; and therefore all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion according to the dictates of conscience; and that it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity towards each other.
Similar clauses appeared in the constitutions of New Jersey (1776), North Carolina (1776), Pennsylvania (1776), New York (1777), Vermont (1777), South Carolina (1778), Massachusetts (1780), New Hampshire (1784), etc. Today, the safeguard for the rights of conscience pioneered by Christian leaders is a regular feature of state constitutions.
The Founding Fathers were outspoken about the importance of this God-given inalienable right. For example, signer of the Constitution William Livingston declared:
Consciences of men are not the objects of human legislation. . . . [H]ow beautiful appears our [expansive] constitution in disclaiming all jurisdiction over the souls of men, and securing (by a never-to-be-repealed section) the voluntary, unchecked, moral suasion of every individual.
And John Jay, the original Chief Justice of the U. S. Supreme Court, similarly rejoiced that:
Security under our constitution is given to the rights of conscience and private judgment. They are by nature subject to no control but that of Deity, and in that free situation they are now left.
President Thomas Jefferson likewise declared that the First Amendment was an “expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience.”
But President Obama disagrees with what for four centuries in American history has formerly been an inalienable right. He has specifically singled out and attacked the rights of religious and moral conscience, seeking to coerce dissenters into accepting his own beliefs. While Biblical teachings result in protection for differences of opinion on religious issues, secularists demand conformity of belief and practice to their own secular standards; they are especially intolerant of any differences that stem from Biblical faith.
While the President has recently targeted the Catholic Church for its religious beliefs, his attacks on religious conscience have been ongoing over the past three years, beginning shortly after he first took office when he first announced his plans to repeal religious conscience protection for medical workers. (We have just posted on our website a piece showing the extreme and consistent hostility of this President against Biblical faith and values over the past three years. As proven by his own actions and words, he is the most anti-Biblical president in American history.)
Please call your Congressman and Senator and tell them to vote for the “Respect for Rights of Conscience Act” now advancing in the House (Rep. Jeff Fortenberry is the sponsor) and in the Senate (Sen. Roy Blunt is the sponsor).
Toll free numbers for the Capitol switchboard are 866-220-0044 or 877-851-6437. When an operator answers, ask to be connected to a Senator from your specific state (it will take two calls, one for each Senator; you can find your senators here). If you can’t get through on the Capitol switchboard, please call their local offices (listed on their websites). Please call your Senators today and tomorrow, and please ask your family, friends, co-workers, church members, networks, etc., to also call. We must act NOW!
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