Hence, from principle as well as from necessity, when he came to formulate a political constitution for his colony, he laid it down as the primordial principle: “I do, for me and mine, declare and establish for the first fundamental of the government of my province that every person that doth and shall reside therein shall have and enjoy the free possession of his or her faith and exercise of worship toward God, in such way and manner as every such person shall in conscience believe is most acceptable to God. And so long as such person useth not this Christian liberty to licentiousness or the destruction of others—that is, to speak loosely and profanely or contemptuously of God, Christ, the Holy Scriptures, or religion, or commit any moral evil or injury against others in their conversation—he or she shall be protected in the enjoyment of the aforesaid Christian liberty by the civil magistrate.”
This was in exact accord with the principles and provisions under which the original colony had been formed, and had already been living and prospering for more than forty years preceding. Everything, therefore, was in full readiness and condition for the universal and hearty adoption of the grand first article enacted by the first General Assembly, to wit: “That no person now or hereafter residing in this province, who shall confess one Almighty God to be the Creator, Upholder, and Ruler of the world, and profess himself obliged in conscience to live peaceably and justly under the civil government, shall in any wise be molested or prejudiced on account of his conscientious persuasion or practice; nor shall he be compelled to frequent or maintain any religious worship, place, or ministry contrary to his mind, but shall freely enjoy his liberty in that respect, without interruption or reflection.”
In these specific provisions all classes in the colony at the time heartily united. And thus was secured and guaranteed to every good citizen that full, rightful, and precious religious freedom which is the birthright of all Americans, for which the oppressed of all the ages sighed, and which had to make its way through a Red Sea of human tears and blood and many a sorrowful wilderness before reaching its place of rest.
SAFEGUARDS TO TRUE LIBERTY.
IV. But the religious liberty which our fathers thus sought to secure and to transmit to their posterity was not a licentious libertinism. They knew the value of religious principles and good morals to the individual and to the state, and they did not leave it an open matter, under plea of free conscience, for men to conduct themselves as they please with regard to virtue and religion.