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Unitarianism ceased to be an offence. ACcording to the legal doctrines by which this prosecution was supported, and which are confirmed by the verdict of the Jury, who “ are Judges alike of the fact and the law,” Unitarianism is still an offence, and the liberal intentions of the Legislature in extending toleration to its professors are consequently defeated. It was contended by the Attorney-General, and allowed, and afterwards maintained by the Court, that the Blasphemy Act, 9 and 10 William and Mary, made no new offences, but only affixed statutary penalties to certain acts which were previously, and still are, offences at Common Law. The denial of the doctrine of the Trinity is consequently still an offence at Common Law, and punishable, upon conviction, at the discretion of the Court.
The AttorneyGeneral did not leave this to be inferred by others, but followed up his premises with their legitimate conclusion, “ that any contumelious attack on the Trinity would even now be liable to prosecution.” The word contumelious is here only a “ word of surplusage,” for the offenders described in the Act on which the argument rested, and whom the Attorney-General was describing as still offenders at Common Law, are those“ who by writing, printing, teaching, or advised speaking, shall deny any one of the persons of the holy Trinity to be God.” It was also decided that to deny the truth of a doctrine was reviling, which is much the same thing as contumely, Now if the Legislature designed to secure to deniers of the Trinity, by Mr. Smith's Bill, “ the most perfect toleration ; and of this we have the testimony of the Right Reverend Supporters of that Bill, we must demur to the propriety of a conviction on principles which tend to defeat that design, and to place us at the mercy of every bigot in the country. We have the shield of public opinion, as we had before. The prosecution of any sect of Christians is not a very probable event; but it should be understood that the principles of Toleration which protect us, extend also to others with whom the public may have less sympathy.
2. That Christianity is part of the law of England, the common or unwritten law, has been often said, but I am not aware of any satisfactory evidence by which the assertion is supported. To try by a Jury, to hang a felon, are parts of the Common Law, which we derive from the customs of our Gothic ancestors. But it was not a crime with them to revile Christianity. Preaching it might perhaps have been treated as an offence. If the Common law be traced to a period anterior to Trinitarianism,
Church-of-Englandism, Protestantism, Popery, or. Christianity in any shape; and to such a period Trial by Jury and the punishment of felony may, I apprehend, be traced, it is difficult to conceive how it should afford any more protection to the believers than to the impugners of those systems.
3. If Christianity be part of the Common or unwritten Law of the land, it is to be presumed that it has become so in a justifiable, lawful, and honourable manner. The fact of its having become the law sanctifies the means by which it became the law. It establishes as a principle of the Common Law, that those means were not of a criminal character. Now the way in which Christianity gained this elevation was by free inquiry, by discussing and disproving the truth and excellence of the former religion of the country. Its success was therefore an establishment of the right to attack the religion of
This must be granted by the Christian, or he pronounces the first preacher of the gospel in England, a criminal, deserving fine and imprisonment. It must be allowed by the Church of England, or a similar condemnation is passed upon the Reformers who pro. cured its substitution for Popery. Not only a general right of religious discussion, subject to limitations, but a specific right to attack the
religion of the country, (whether the use of that right be an evil or a good, on which, of course, the two parties will think differently,) is implied in, and legitimated by, the fact that Christianity has become the law of the land in virtue of that right. To destroy it (and the conviction of Mr. Carlile for its exercise does destroy it) is to vitiate the title of Christianity to be so considered.
4. Christianity is a vague term; or rather it has been rendered vague by the diversity of opinions held by those who claim that name in
What is the Christianity, to impugn which is a legal offence? To this question no definite reply has ever been given; and the fact is, that the reply depends upon the spirit of the times, and varies as that inclines to bigotry or liberality. Nothing is more common than for bigots to deny that name to those whose interpretations of the Scriptures differ materially from their own. Let such men obtain even temporary influence, and a law so indefinite will
“ Give ample room and verge enough
The characters of hell to trace."
On the other hand, when this indefiniteness is liberally constrúed, and it could not be more liberally construed that by the Lord ChiefJustice, on Mr. Carlile's trial, it may easily be taken advantage of by the timorous, crafty, in. direct enemy to Christianity, who is by far the most formidable, and the vengeance of the law only falls upon him who goes openly, bluntly, and argumentatively to his object. That is to say, it is not Deism that is punished, but honesty. Not the insidious artifice that corrupts, but the open hostility that disgusts. Not Gibbon, but Paine. The liability of a Deist to punishment is in exact proportion to the openness with which he avows and pursues his object, and in which proportion he may be considered as less culpable in himself, and more harmless to society. This is surely not consistent with laws which make evil intentions the essence of criminality.
5. If Christianity be the law of the land, then the decision of Christianity is final and obligatory, as to whether any, and what punishment should be inflicted on those by whom it is denied and reviled. If the New Testament decides that they should be silenced, fined, imprisoned, banished, burned, then the produetion of such authority indubitably legalizes those inflictions. Its decision is the very reverse of all this, as I have shewn in the following Sermon. If it be said that the directions, which I have endeavoured to illustrate, are for the guidance of private individuals, and not of public functionaries, I ask where is its other code by which