It really is a big deal, all this talk about religious liberty.
Yeah, yeah, I know, we don’t talk about it all that much from time to time, but it’s been in the news lately even if we aren’t calling it by name.
So, you might ask, “Why today?”
Well, back in 1672, on March 15, King Charles II of England issued a Royal Declaration of Indulgence. It was his attempt to extend religious liberty to Protestant non-conformist and Roman Catholics in his dominions worldwide by suspending the penal laws that punished “recusants” (those who refused to attend Anglican services) from the Church of England.
Prior to this ill-fated declaration, England had undergone religious turmoil since the days of Henry VIII’s divorce from Rome and his Catholic wife, Catherine of Aragon.
The British Isles had been fighting religious wars on one side or another during the last part of Henry’s reign, his son’s reign, and the reigns of his daughters, Catholic Mary and Protestant Elizabeth. And at the time of the declaration, not only were the Catholics in hot water, the Protestants within the protestant Church of England were too.
Rules were rules, and they’d for darn sure better not be broken!
The Stuarts (Charles II’s granddad, James I) took over when Liz died. They were in reality, Catholics posing as Scottish Presbyterians posing as Anglicans. Charles II’s mom was so Catholic she refused to be crowned in an Anglican ceremony and was never really queen.
Of course, all of Europe was in religious upheaval at the same time as the Protestant Reformation had been going on for years. The Eastern World had never known religious freedom. In the Middle East and beyond, it was the religion of the current war-lord that was en vogue.
In the United States, we’ve never had to deal with this stuff.
Sure, sure, some of our first “citizens” landed on our sunny shores for religious freedom, but most of them brought their beliefs from back home and most of them were about as tolerant as an Ayatollah.
That all changed with folks like George Washington, James Madison, Roger Williams and such.
As a matter of fact, George didn’t become a popular name in Jewish communities until George Washington went into a synagogue in New York City and promised the congregation not only religious tolerance, but religious freedom.
But back to Charles II and his Royal Declaration of Indulgence.
It was highly controversial, as most religious decrees are. Sir Orlando Bridgeman resigned as Lord Keeper of the Great Seal and refused to apply the Great Seal of England to it.
Orlando thought it was too generous to Catholics.
See, Catholics in England couldn’t enter public service, lost lands, estates, and power, and this was Charles’, who was decidedly and not-so secretly Catholic, attempt to restore much of that.
It was a big deal.
Charles’ parliament, known as the Cavalier Parliament, forced Charles in 1673 to withdraw the declaration and in is place, impose the Test Acts.
They required anyone going into public service (lords, barons, earls, dukes, sheriffs, dog catchers) to deny the Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation and take communion at the local Anglican church.
To Catholics, then and now, transubstantiation is pretty important.
But with the Test Act, they had to place their hand on the Bible and say “I (state your name) do declare that I do believe that there is not any transubstantiation in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, or in the elements of the bread and wine, at or after the consecration thereof by any person whatsoever.”
If they didn’t, they couldn’t be employed.
If they did, their church taught they were bound for an eternity of torment.
At the onset, the Test Acts didn’t include the peers (lords, dukes, etc.) but they were included in the Protestant only play in 1678 which required all peers and members of the House of Commons to take the oath as well.
It went further and required them to declare against the invocation of saints, the sacrament of Mass, and of course, transubstantiation, effectively excluding Catholics from both houses.
This was in no way religious liberty, religious tolerance, or religious freedom.
It wasn’t until 1828 when the “necessity of receiving the sacrament” as a qualification for office was repealed.
Sir Robert Peel’s Catholic Relief Act of 1829 cleared that UP.
So, again, you might ask why.
Well, it’s my blog, religious freedom is important to me – not just my religious freedom, but yours too – and the guy down the street whom I’ve never met, for that matter.
So today, when you pray, or chant, or meditate, or go to mass, or vespers, remember, this religious freedom thing, it’s not just a conversation, it’s a right, and a right many fought and died for you to have.