CON´SCIENCE, n. con´shens. [Fr. from
L. conscientia, from conscio, to know, to be privy to; con and scio, to know (that is, with knowledge)….] (bold
parenthetical note added)
or self-knowledge, or judgment of right and wrong; or the faculty, power or
principle within us, which decides on the lawfulness or unlawfulness of our own
actions and affections, and instantly approves or condemns them.
Restraint, check, particularly by law or authority; compulsion; force. South.
January 16 each year is
the anniversary of the ratification of the Virginia Statute for Religious
Freedom (1786). Drafted by Thomas
Jefferson, the Virginia Statute became the foundation for the First Amendment
in the Bill of Rights. Like many of the
documents of our founding generation, the Statute affirms the ideals first
restored by Christ and upheld by the first century church—the primitive gospel
of liberty and the limitations of men ruling over men. At this time the world was reminded of the
truth that men were created free and with the capacity to reason and with
conscience—the power of principle within us.
The world has been witness to scores of individuals of many religious
convictions for whom liberty of conscience became more important than their
very lives. On the Chain of Christianity®,
many apostles, disciples, saints, reformers and our own Pilgrim Fathers
suffered persecution and sacrificed their livelihood and lives to shake off
"the yoke of antichristian bondage”—the coercive compulsion of the civil
authority to force a system of faith, worship, or belief-based actions on its
citizens or force their restraint in the practice of the same.
it enacted. . . that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to
their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise
or affect their civil capacities.” Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom
Each individual is
entitled by virtue of the Creator to believe and to act on his beliefs be they
Christian or Muslim, Atheist or Buddhist, Jewish or Roman Catholic (of course,
not all will be saved based on their beliefs—only by His grace). The role of the state is to limit the free exercise of religion only to the extent
that such belief-based actions intrude on or inhibit the life, liberty, and
pursuit of happiness of others. It is
never the role of the civil government to use its power and authority to force
citizens to exercise or support (e.g., government spending of some tax dollars)
a religion or to unduly limit the exercise of one’s beliefs.
Christianity, not the
Virginia Statute, originally gave this idea of individual religious liberty to
the world and, thus, to all religions in nations embracing the principle. Of all people, then, the followers of Christ
should best guard and steward it—they must live it, for "to reach the essence
of liberty, and certainly to secure its blessings in co-operative living,
choice must be exercised in conformity with moral principles. There must be a sense of personal responsibility,
of self-restraint, and therefore of self-government…. The blessing of liberty,
which political government may safeguard or destroy but can never itself
provide, are therefore intimately connected with personal belief in, and
practice of, Christian doctrine.” (Felix Morely, in T&L, p. 236)
What are we, as heirs
to His Spirit of Liberty, doing to actively confess the faith and walk as
children of Light in liberty of conscience?
How are we actively standing against civil compulsion to violate conscience?
Remember, doing what is
right and not doing what is wrong OR doing what is wrong and not doing what is
right requires the consent of conscience.
"My consent (active or tacit) is my title to keeping conscience in God’s
will.” (T&L, p. 232)
For more on this topic, please see Teaching and
Learning America’s Christian History: The Principle Approach, pp. 224-239.
Read more about religious liberty and the separation of church and state from a recent post at William J. Federer's American Minute. Click here.
ReligiousFreedomDay.com also has resources for
teaching about Religious Liberty (especially regarding students’ rights in
public schools), www.relgiousfreedomday.com.
Webster, N. (2006). An American Dictionary
of the English Language, facsimile copy of the 1828 edition. Chesapeake, VA: Foundation for
American Christian Education.