Procuring Religious Freedom for Virginia
Note: this article appeared as part of the colonial-themed April Fools site, purporting to date to April 1, 1776 from the perspective of a well-connected Virginia revolutionary pamphleteer.
On this, the First Day of April 1776, I have received word by secret courier, dispatched from the home of an esteemed colleague of mine located not far to the southeast at Gunston Hall, that he intends to attempt procuring the right of religious freedom for all Virginians.
My colleague has asked to remain un-named until his official capacity is established by the upcoming Fifth Convention of Virginia, but he has stated unequivocally that he intends to draft a VIRGINIA DECLARATION OF RIGHTS for consideration by that body, which shall include and proclaim the essential rights and liberties of all Virginians, including his heretofore limited free exercise of religion and conscience. Although many essential liberties shall be proclaimed by this document, my colleague is aware that this one is of particular interest to this pamphleteer, and I do truly appreciate his kind consideration.
As my countrymen are surely aware, Virginia—though oft’ ahead of her colonial brethren in the protections of the Rights of Man—has heretofore been less accepting of religious freedoms than, as an example, the great republic of Pennsylvania to the north. Most clearly, our State has, in keeping with the now inapplicable laws of Great Britain, outlawed the practice of the Papist religion within her borders. ‘Tis time to remove the practice of religious faith from the binds of civil governance and allow all to practice their faiths freely within our borders, whether Christian or Papist, Hebrew or Mohammedan, without hindrance.
I have been assured by my esteemed colleague, that the declaration of religious liberty portion of the VIRGINIA DECLARATION OF RIGHTS shall read as follows, or similar: “That religion, or the duty which we owe to our Creator and the manner of discharging it, can be directed by reason and conviction, not by force or violence; and therefore, all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience; and that it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity towards each other.”