An understanding of history is the only thing that can illuminate our understanding of religious liberty. Our ignorance of history (not to mention a dangerous level of apathy) is allowing a tyrant to erode the liberty that people of faith have enjoyed for over two centuries. We believe that we have moved beyond the days of kings and serfs, yet here we are, repeating the very history our forefathers attempted to prevent us from repeating. It is exactly the same show that was played out again and again throughout the English history that gave us our founding documents, just different characters. The current tyrannical King of America is forcing the church to succumb to the rule of the sovereign in opposition to the dictates of conscience. Repeating what occurred in 1066, in 1213, in 1628, in 1641, and in 1689. Journey with me, as we roll back the clock and watch the parallels unfold.
In 1066 England, William I takes the throne and begins forcing his rule over the people of England. A people, who because of the agreement of 1041 had become accustomed to participation in their government and had established a common law they felt was fair and just for their time. William I, however had different ideas. He and his sons continued to fundamentally transform England, up until Henry I took the throne. Henry is the signer of the 1100 Charter of Liberties in which he promised to end the tyranny of his father and brother. He made a charter with the people to end all evil and oppressive practices as carried out by the crown. Interestingly enough, what the people of 1100 England felt was evil and oppressive, we might find alarmingly familiar.
Besides promising to end the evil inheritance taxes, and ensuring that lawmakers were subject to the laws they made, Henry promised to abandon the practice of requiring the ecclesiastical leaders of the Church of England to do the government’s bidding. Henry made a promise to the people, that first and foremost, he would declare the church free of government interference:
“Know that by the mercy of God and the common counsel of the barons of the whole kingdom of England I have been crowned king of said kingdom; and because the kingdom had been oppressed by unjust exactions, I, through fear of God and the love which I have toward you all, in the first place make the holy church of God free, … And I take away all the bad customs by which the kingdom of England was unjustly oppressed;”
But that would not end the reign of tyranny forever, because tyrants hates Liberty and “the tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots & tyrants. It is its natural manure.” T. Jefferson
In 1213, John is the King of England and his hatred for the church quickly becomes apparent. Tyrants do not like to share power, and throughout history they came to recognize the great force within the church, after all, if God be for us, who can be against us? John is called the most evil King England has ever known. The English have said that “hell was fouled by the presence of John”. It was John’s ruthless behavior toward the English people who would not submit to his tyrannical rule that gained John’s infamy. But, it was John’s refusal to grant the people the right to choose an Arch Bishop that threw the people into rebellion. John wanted power over the church as well the treasury; after all it was his Divine Right. The Barons, Lords and the chosen Arch Bishop, Stephen Langton, in an attempt to avoid bloodshed drew up a charter to force the King to keep the promise issued by the crown in the 1100 Charter of Liberties. This edict gave specific directions to John on what tyrannical acts were to be halted and is called the Magna Carta.
“In the first place we have granted to God, and by this our present charter confirmed for us and our heirs forever that the English Church shall be free, and shall have her rights entire, and her liberties inviolate;… Wherefore we will and firmly order that the English Church be free, and that the men in our kingdom have and hold all the aforesaid liberties, rights, and concessions, well and peaceably, freely and quietly, fully and wholly, for themselves and their heirs, of us and our heirs, in all respects and in all places forever, as is aforesaid.”
The King promised once again, through the Magna Carta, to honor the sovereignty of the Church and the right of the people to maintain their religious Liberty. But under tyrants who have no regard for the Rule of Law and see themselves as the ultimate authority, religious liberty cannot survive without a fight.
This time it was Charles I who had to be put in his place. Charles was accused of devising “a wicked design to erect and uphold in himself an unlimited and tyrannical power to rule according to his will, and to overthrow the Rights and Liberties of the People”. To do this he had “traitorously and maliciously levied war against the present Parliament and the people therein represented.” What was among Charles’ atrocities? You guessed it, offenses against religious liberty, 11 counts to be exact and all were listed in the Grand Remonstrance of 1641. His tyranny was summarized as follows:
“For depriving the Bishops of their votes in Parliament, and abridging their immoderate power usurped over the Clergy, and other your good subjects, which they have perniciously abused to the hazard of religion, and great prejudice and oppression to the laws of the kingdom, and just liberty of your people-”
The people rebelled against Charles’ unjust laws and against his oppression of the church. Charles was found guilty of tyranny and oppression, and he was sentenced to death. Liberty once again succeeded with new protections obtained by the resolve of the people.
Just 60 years later the people found themselves once again in the hands of a tyrant, this time his name was James II and he was also attempting to control the church. James was attempting to tax the people through the church and he was attempting to control the method and mode of worship instead of allowing the people to worship according to their beliefs. In order to enforce these laws, he was placing agents of the crown in the church and establishing arbitrary regulations and courts to bring government action against the leaders of the church. The people of England charged James with attempting to completely destroy Liberty.
“Whereas the late King James the Second, by the assistance of divers evil counsellors, judges and ministers employed by him, did endeavour to [overturn] and [completely destroy] the Protestant religion and the laws and liberties of this kingdom; By assuming and exercising a power of dispensing with and suspending of laws and the execution of laws without consent of Parliament; By committing and prosecuting [various] worthy [ministers] for humbly petitioning to be excused from concurring to the said assumed power; By issuing and causing to be executed a commission under the great seal for erecting a court called the Court of Commissioners for Ecclesiastical Causes;
The people stood against James, causing him to flee the throne. They lost a tyrant and retained their Liberty in this new document, The Bill of Rights of 1689.
In our own nation many preachers, particularly of the Baptist faith, were prosecuted, tarred and feathered, whipped, jailed, and executed because they would not submit to a license under the state religion. The blood shed on our own shores in the name of religion is the very thing that brought us the first amendment and led to the eventual dissolution of all test acts and state churches. This is the history of our founding fathers and mothers. This is the wisdom they brought to the table when drafting our government. These tyrants of the past are the reason our founders gave us the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution and Bill of Rights, to “secure the blessings of Liberty for our posterity”. They knew that a tyrant would come along sooner or later. They knew that this tyrant would hate liberty as much as those in the past. But they also knew that tyranny has a limited bag of tricks, so they did their best to give us the protections gained from over 700 years of battle for Liberty. This is precisely why we have a 1st Amendment, to secure the right of the people to worship according to the dictates of their conscience and to keep the government out of the business of the church. After all, THIS is the REAL meaning of separation of church and state.
It is no surprise that tyranny would rematerialize in the very same way it has for centuries. Once again, the government attempts to govern the church, to impose its rule over the conscience of the people. Healthcare mandates against the church have nothing to do with healthcare and everything to do with tyranny over the people. Kings do not concern themselves with the good of the people as much as they do with the will of the King. If this tyranny is allowed to stand, a door will be opened that will allow the Kings troops to march even greater oppression against the church; history guarantees it. These troops, undoubtedly in the form of regulation and law, will once again “deny the church their voice in government”causing a great “hazard to religious liberty” bring forward the “prosecution of various ministers” in arbitrary “courts of ecclesiastical causes” which will surely bring about the “complete destruction of liberty”. What we must learn from history, what we must understand today is that if religious liberty is allowed to fall, all other liberties will quickly follow. The battle for all liberty is rooted in the battle for religious liberty and the ability to speak, print, assemble, and air our grievances according to the dictates of our conscience. It is no coincidence that it is the FIRST Amendment. The question is what are we going to do about the tyranny that is fundamentally transforming America into an utter wasteland of ruined liberties?