Friday, July 9, 2010

Liberty of Conscience by David Barton

Commonwealth v. Nesbit, 1859 Supreme Court of Pennsylvania In this final case on Blue Laws, the court ruled that such laws were both civil and religious in nature. It also took time to explain that such laws did not violate the constitutional guarantee for “liberty of conscience,” because liberty of conscience was indeed to be protected: We are not forgetting that the public acts of our Pennsylvania ancestors abound with declarations in favor of liberty of conscience. However, the court pointed out that “liberty of conscience” had its limitations: They the Founders could not admit this liberty of conscience as a civil justification of human sacrifices, or parricide killing one’s parents or close kin, infanticide, or thuggism religious murders, or of such modes of worship as the disgusting and corrupting rites of the Dionysia, and Aphrodisia, and Eleusinia, and other festivals of Greece and Rome.

They did not mean that the pure moral customs which Christianity has introduced should be without legal protection because some pagan, or other religionist, or anti-religionist, should advocate as matter of conscience concubinage, polygamy, incest, free love, and free divorce, or any of them. They did not mean that phallic processions and satyric dances and obscene songs and indecent statues and paintings of ancient or of modern paganism might be introduced under the profession of religion, or pleasure, or conscience, to seduce the young and the ignorant into a Corinthian degradation; to offend the moral sentiment of a refined Christian people; and to compel Christian modesty to associate with the nudity and impurity of Polynesian or of Spartan women.

No Christian people could possibly allow such things. By our laws against vice and immorality we do not mean to enforce religion; we admit that to be impossible. But we do mean to protect our customs, no matter that they may have originated in our religion; for they are essential parts of our social life. Instinctively we defend and protect them. It is mere social self-defense. Law can never become entirely infidel; for it is essentially founded on the moral customs of men and the very generating principle of these is most frequently religion.

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