Toleration v Liberty
On June 12, 1776, the Virginia Declaration of Rights was adopted but not until its author, George Mason, and the committee had consented, at the urging of young James Madison, to an amendment of the 16th article. The article originally stated:
“That religion, or the duty we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and convictions, and not by force or violence; and, therefore, that all men should enjoy the fullest toleration in the exercise or religion, according to the dictates of conscience, unpunished and unrestrained by the magistrate, unless, under the color of religion, any man disturb the peace, the happiness, or the safety of society; and that it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity for each other.”
The difference between this article and the First Amendment, is between the free exercise of religion and toleration. Where did the young James Madison learn this principle? He learned from the Baptists and their persecution in Orange and Culpeper Counties, Virginia. Also this Declaration of Rights became the pattern of many other colonial declarations. Article 16 was the basis of the establishment and free exercise clauses of our federal Constitution.
May we never forget and may we pass on to our posterity that a vital part of our Baptist heritage involves religious liberty in America.
Dr. Dale R. Hart: From: This Day in Baptist History Vol. I. (Thompson and Cummins) p. 242.
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