Tuesday, April 25, 2006

What Is the Source of Liberty?

In last week's blog, we asked the philosophical question, "Who Is Responsible for Educating Children?" We answered that question by referring to two sources: God's law and man's law. Perhaps surprisingly, both God's law and man's law agree that parents, not the government or church, are primarily responsible for educating their children.

What is the source for parental liberty to raise their own children? Last week, we examined three court decisions which upheld parental authority to nourish and bring up their children. Listen to the words of those judges.
• "One of the most important natural duties of the parent is his obligation to educate his child, . ." That language speaks in terms of natural law. We shall shortly examine the greatest statement of natural law in American history.
• "[T]he liberty of parents and guardians to direct the upbringing and education of children under their control . . . The fundamental theory of liberty upon which all governments in this Union repose excludes any general power of the state to standardize its children by forcing them to accept instruction from public teachers only." That language speaks of the "fundamental theory of liberty upon which all governments in this Union repose. . ." We shall shortly examine the constitution of Indiana for further instruction on our title question.
• "Nor does this court have any difficulty in concurring with those courts that have found within the ambit of the free exercise clause a constitutional right to education ones children . . ." We shall also examine the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution as we search for the answer to the question: "What is the source of liberty?"

I. DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE. The greatest expression of natural rights and liberty in American history is found in our Declaration of Independence: "We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness . . ."

In 1776, in a land established upon the Word of God, even an avowed deist such as Thomas Jefferson was fully aware of the source of liberty -- not a what, but a Who -- Creator God. The Declaration of Independence makes it clear that government is not the source of liberty; rather, as Jefferson next declares, "That to secure these Rights, Governments are instituted among Men, . . ."

II. CONSTITUTION OF INDIANA. The first constitution of the State of Indiana was drafted in 1816 in the territorial capital of Corydon, which later that year became the first state capital. The first section of the first article is derived from Jefferson's language penned forty years earlier:

"That the general, great and essential principles of liberty and free Government may be recognized and unalterably established; WE declare, That all men are born equally free and independent, and have certain natural, inherent, and unalienable rights; among which are the enjoying and defending life and liberty, and of acquiring, possessing, and protecting property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety."

Although the source of liberty and those "natural, inherent, and unalienable rights" is only implied, that source is specifically mentioned in section 3, as follows (each clause is preceded by a number):
1. "That all men have a natural and indefeasible right to worship Almighty God, according to the dictates of their own consciences:
2. That no man shall be compelled to attend, erect, or support any place of Worship, or to maintain any ministry against his consent:
3. That no human authority can, in any case whatever, control or interfere with the rights of conscience:
4. And that no preference shall ever be given by law to any religious societies, or modes of worship;
5. and no religious test shall be required as a qualification to any office of trust or profit."

Lest the reader wonder about the importance of these rights, consider the case of Abdul Rahman, the Afghani citizen mentioned in our first blog, the man who was charged with the crime of converting from Islam to Christianity. His country, Afghanistan, and numerous other Muslim countries, which do not believe in the separation of mosque and state, do not protect the religious liberties of its citizens. Would you rather live in a Muslim country or in America?

Lest the reader become incensed at Muslim countries in which the marriage of mosque and state results in the denial of religious liberty, keep in mind that the Muslim influence was virtually nonexistent in Indiana in 1816. Rather, the drafters of Indiana's first constitution were reacting to the marriage of church and state and the lack of religious liberty as found in colonial America and in the early United States! For example:
• The Pilgrims who established Massachusetts (1) did not believe in separation of church and state and (2) did not believe in freedom of conscience. With respect to Baptist preachers and believers who sought "to worship Almighty God, according to the dictates of their own consciences," the Pilgrims violated all five of the religious liberties found in the first Indiana constitution.
• In colonial Virginia, in which the Church of England was the established church, Baptist preachers were arrested and beaten for the crime of preaching the Gospel without first obtaining a license to preach from the Church of England. The lawyer who defended several Baptist preachers was Patrick Henry, a good Presbyterian. When Patrick Henry was later governor of Virginia, he supported legislation which would compel tithing to the church of your own choice, a great step forward in liberty for a people who had previously been forced to support the state Church of England. The legislation failed because of opposition of Baptist leaders, who believed, as Indiana legislators later believed, that "That no man shall be compelled to attend, erect, or support any place of Worship, or to maintain any ministry against his consent."

Just as Muslims do not believe in (1) separation of church and state and (2) freedom of conscience, neither do Roman Catholics and most Protestants, who retained their opposition to those fundamental liberties when they separated from the Roman Catholic Church during the Reformation.

III. CONSTITUTION OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. The Constitution, drafted and submitted to the states for ratification in 1787, faced intense opposition in several states. One of the reluctant states was Virginia, which opposed the Constitution unless religious and civil liberties were guaranted by a Bill of Rights. Baptist preachers, including John Leland, mindful of the earlier denial of religious liberty in such states as Massachusetts and Virginia, were among the leading opponents, insisting that religious liberty must be the law of the land.

Virginia finally voted for the U.S. Constitution in the middle of 1788, when the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments, were added. The very First Amendment, and the very first freedom protected by the U.S. Constitution, is as follows: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." Please notice two things:
• This clause is the soul of brevity, expressing in sixteen words the twin pillars of religious liberty -- (1) separation of church and state and (2) freedom of conscience.
• These twin pillars of religious liberty were not insisted upon by Pilgrims, Anglicans, or Roman Catholics, who believed in neither, but rather by the strong contingent of Baptists in the original thirteen states.

In other words, the first liberty in the First Amendment is nothing more than codification of doctrinally distinctive Baptist beliefs -- separation of church and state and freedom of conscience. Since the adoption of the U.S. Constitution in 1789, America's principles of liberty have taken root in America and have been exported throughout the world. America and the world owes much to Baptists who stood firmly on the Word of God on behalf of religious liberty.

IV. CONCLUSION. Take one final look at the Declaration of Independence. Since the source of liberty is God, the freedom to worship God is foundational to all other liberties. The corollary has been borne out by history and by current events -- if a nation does not have religious liberty, then all other liberties wither, cut off from the source. America and the world continue to owe much to Baptists who continue to stand firmly on the Word of God on behalf of religious liberty.


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