LIBERTY, Religious. Religious liberty is the right or freedom of a person to wor ship or not to worship according to his own understanding and preferences, and, within the requirements of public order, of teaching his religious beliefs without hindrance or molesta tion; the complete equality of all religions be fore the law.
The question of religious liberty seems never to have arisen in pre-Christian times. The story of Paul's visit to Athens and the noted Pantheon at Rome seem to reveal a tolerant attitude of the ancient peoples toward all religions. All persons within the state might, as a matter of political necessity, be re quired to pay formal homage to the god of the state, but they were also wholly free to wor ship their own particular gods. This ancient toleration carried, however, the seeds of its own destruction within itself. For while it was allowed to people to worship what gods they pleased, it was rigidly required of them, re gardless of what their personal faiths might be, to take part in the state religion. Naturally to persons who believed that there was and could be but one God, one religion, one worship, and that to take part in any other worship was ex ceedingly sinful, such a demand would become intolerable. While appearing to be tolerant it actually forced a person to go against his own conscience and to do what he believed to be hateful to God. When religion became more a personal than a state affair there grew up a bitter resentment against any sort of power that sought to compel a person to go against his conscience and against his God. The truth fulness or actual value of a person's religion is no part of the question. It is enough that there has sprung up from the deepest depths of the human heart and mind an unalterable and unconquerable opposition to any authority that seeks to force a man to worship in a way alien to his faith.
The problem is much less simple than this seems to imply. It is hardly more than a century ago that it was finally conceded by the governing power that religion is not a state but a purely personal affair. Even at the present time this is not conceded in all countries. From
time immemorial the state has had its religion as by law established, the idea being that the safety and welfare of the state depended upon the proper performance of the state religion. To protest and refuse to perform these re ligious rites was to become a disorderly and possibly a revolutionary element within the state. Thus the issue was joined, those in control of the government insisting that the public order and safety required all to wor ship according to the established religion and in no other way and in opposition to these an increasing number demanding as a matter of divine right the freedom to worship according to the dictates of their own conscience. Some thing more than that is involved—and this is the most serious part of the trouble; the right of a person not only to worship but to teach, propagate the doctrine he believes true, so that others may be led to worship in his way. This, under the old system of state re ligion, amounted to nothing less than the right to form a party within the state at variance with the state religion and the state government. To the political necessity which forced the governing powers to suppress re ligions other than that by law established, add the intense feeling each person had that his religion was the only true religion and the bitterness of the struggle between those de manding and those opposed to religious liberty is easily understood. That the political rulers dreaded the revolutionary possibilities of re ligious dissent; and the ecclesiastical author ities feared that the freedom to teach heretical doctrines would lead the souls of men to per dition, and on these grounds honestly sought to prevent such dissent and heresy by measures more or less severe, will not be doubted. But eventually the more clear-visioned statesmen saw that the evils resulting from this policy of religious suppression and oppression were a greater menace to political stability and to religion itself than any which could come from a reasonable religious freedom.