Sunday, October 4, 2009

Civil and Religious Liberty

The Liberty Tree was a famous elm tree that stood in Boston, near Boston Common, in the days before the American Revolution. The tree was a rallying point for the growing resistance to the rule of England over the American colonies. In the years that followed, almost every American town had its own Liberty Tree—a living symbol of popular support for individual liberty and resistance to tyranny.

Just as the growth of a tree, and its fruits, are dependent upon its roots, civil and religious liberty are inseparably connected. One cannot exist or prosper without the other. As George Washington stated in his Farewell Address,

“Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism who should labor to subvert these great Pillars of human happiness ‑these firmest props of the duties of Men and citizens. The mere Politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked, where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in Courts of Justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that National morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”

As Washington states, America’s political prosperity is supported and based upon the “dispositions and habits” of religion and morality. They are the “great Pillars of human happiness.” And, no matter how educated minds may denounce or differ, America’s greatest virtue, National morality, cannot “prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”

One cannot expect justice without mercy, brotherly kindness without charity, nor freedom without responsibility. In this regard, Washington also said, “Human rights can only be assured among a virtuous people.” Virtuous principles eschew prejudice and discrimination, confirming the universal truth of the Declaration of Independence that, "all men are created equal." Virtue encompasses characteristics of good will, patience, tolerance, kindness, respect, humility, gratitude, courage, honor, industry, honesty, chastity and fidelity. These precepts serve as the foundation for individual and societal governance.

The fruits of the tree of liberty are individual rights and privileges, including life, justice, security, freedom to worship, and the “pursuit of happiness.” The Constitution and Bill of Rights were established to protect both civil and religious liberty. The roots of the tree were planted in the pure soil of virtue and morality. We cannot partake of the fruit without nourishing and protecting the roots.

By: J. David Gowdy