The Union of Religious Liberty and Marriage
There has been much disputing over the status of marriage licenses and their issuers, and many people on both sides seemingly ignore the protections established by the Founding Fathers. I have written elsewhere on the nature of Article 6 of the Constitution and why elected officials are specifically allowed to fully embrace their religion while serving in office.
After writing over a hundred articles on religion and religious liberty throughout my life, I am constantly surprised as time passes by how little people care about the ramifications of the loss of a free conscience. Even those who promote the idea of liberty or conservative virtues seem to care little when it comes to religious liberty. Such lack of care is odd considering that the Freedom of Conscience was seen as the primary freedom from which all others result.
Perhaps you think that the current kerfuffle is over someone not doing their job. Secular marriage is different from religious marriage, and there is no reason to deny the signing of a document that recognizes two people as united, right?
Let’s step back a moment to 1530 when Thomas More, Lord High Chancellor of England, the most powerful politician of King Henry VIII’s rule, refuses to add his signature to a letter demanding that the King’s previous marriage be annulled so that his new marriage could be recognized. This act had major consequences, and it set off a chain of events that dramatically altered the political landscape of England.
More’s action was criminal. In 1529, Henry VIII instituted “praemunire,” which outlawed the act of public officials from endorsing an outside power over the secular authority. In this case, it was religious law (Papal authority, in connection to Catholicism) over secular law (the wishes of the monarch, Henry VIII).
Things became worse for More when Henry VIII forced all clergy to recognized and uphold the idea that there was no religious authority that could override his dictates. More was eventually pressured into publicly giving the same oath, but he could not publicly declare that the King’s annulment and new marriage were acceptable. To protect himself, he resigned from office.
Although More was no longer in office, he was pressured to attend the coronation of the King’s new wife. He refused, and false charges were placed against More in retaliation. The next year, More was forced to swear another oath that recognized the marriage and the supremacy of secular authority. This was too much for More – powerless and politically shunned, he refused to give up his faith or give even an empty oath.
More was declared a traitor and imprisoned. He was pressured in jail to give up his faith and take the oath. He was pressured to acknowledge secular authority over divine. He was pressured to recognize a secular marriage because religious beliefs did not matter when it came to public office.
He was told to quietly consent to the secular marriage. Instead, More stated that to be silent is to consent, and that only in active non-participation can one uphold his religious dictates. For this act, he was hanged, his body quartered, and his remains desecrated as a symbol to others that secular law was supreme over any dictates of the conscience.
Those who created our country knew More’s story.
The Founding Fathers knew the danger of allowing a government the ability to force any of its citizens, especially the politicians, to say or act that secular law is greater than their personal, religious beliefs.
The Founding Fathers knew the danger of allowing a government to force a public official to sign off on a secular marriage that contradicts their beliefs.
The Founding Fathers knew the danger of allowing a government to deny the freedom of conscience to its citizens, and enshrined two protections (Article 6 and the First Amendment) to declare forever that the faithful of all religions must be protected from actions that actively prohibit them from staying true to those beliefs.
Swearing an oath that someone’s marriage is legal is the original test act. Signing a document acknowledging that same is a test act. Being forced to resign if you do not fulfill said test act is specifically prohibited under the Constitution because the Founders knew that a resignation is not the end to those who use marriage as a political weapon against the religious.
The Founders knew that the country needed the active participation of the religious in office, and they recognized the that test acts were tools of persecution. Those who agree to such oaths and sign such documents in opposition to their beliefs are hypocrites and liars, and they value power over truth. Those who stand behind their religious convictions will defend the country, and they put higher values above what is politically expedient.
Marriage has been the fundamental act of which political and religious liberty has revolved for almost 500 years. This is not a minor incident. This is not about doing “one’s job.” This is about the very founding principles of our country and how our ancestors wanted to create a system free of the horrible abuses put forth by the British monarchs.