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Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature:
An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891.
Vols. IX–XI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 1861–1889

Orthodox Free Thought

By Moses Stuart (1780–1852)

[Born in Wilton, Conn., 1780. Died at Andover, Mass., 1852. From a Letter to Dr. Channing on Religious Liberty. 1830.—Miscellanies. 1846.]

WE hold that every individual has a perfect right to examine, and decide for himself, what his own religious sentiments or creed shall be.

We mean by this, that no law of the land, no public authority or tribunals, and no private combination or society of men to which he has not voluntarily attached himself, shall have any power to demand from him any religious creed whatever, i.e., no power shall compel him to profess any creed, by civil penalty either in respect to his person, his property, or his civil or social rights. We are far from believing that religion has no connection with the prosperity and stability of government. We do fully believe that no good government on earth can be long maintained and be stable, without piety among its subjects. But this is an influence of religion on government and a connection with it, which are indirect. We do not hold to the expediency, or propriety, or safety, of committing in any sense to the civil government the disposal of religious matters, in respect either to faith or modes of worship. The only power which we wish ever to see them possess, is, that they may check what is indecent, or hurtful to the public morals, or dangerous to peace on account of the injury which it does to others. But this we would always desire to see effected, rather as an offence that is indictable at common law than by statute. We wish always to see civil government protect all its citizens in the peaceful enjoyment of their religious privileges; to do this, on the same ground that we should wish to see its subjects protected with respect to any other rights that are dear to them. We mean that the Mohammedan even, and the Jew, and the Deist, as well as the Christian, should have the liberty of worshipping in his own way among us, so long as they demean themselves peaceably, and do not invade the rights of others. We know of no exception to participation in civil and social rights, and the right of worshipping in our own way, or of even not worshipping in any way, under a government that is free in the sense that we would have it; and all this without any abridgment of the rights of citizens, without any civil disabilities.