Monday, June 12, 2017

Free Religious Exercise in Virginia

The Virginia Constitutional Convention adopted George Mason's version of the Declaration of Rights on June 12, 1776. The last section deals with religious freedom:

That religion, or the duty which we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only 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 toward each other.

This list of Rights, protecting the people from the government and noting in section 2 that "all power is vested in, and consequently derived from, the people; that magistrates are their trustees and servants, and at all times amenable to them", influenced Jefferson's drafting of the Declaration of Independence, other states' constitutions, and the Bill of Rights to the U.S. Constitution.

This site provides some background:

After having decided to break with Great Britain, members of Virginia's fifth Revolutionary Convention voted unanimously on May 15, 1775, to prepare a new plan of government or constitution for Virginia, as well as a statement of rights. George Mason arrived late at the convention and became the thirty-second of thirty-six members of the drafting committee. Mason soon took the reins and drove the discussion. Edmund Pendleton noted, “The Political Cooks are busy preparing the dish, and as Colonel Mason seems to have the Ascendancy in the great work, I have sanguine hopes it will be framed so as to Answer it's [sic] end, Prosperity to the Community and Security to Individuals.”

Mason's initial draft consisted of ten paragraphs that outlined such rights as the ability to confront one's accusers in court and to present evidence in court, protection from self-incrimination, the right to a speedy trial, the right to a trial by jury, and the extension of religious tolerance. All of the aforementioned rights were eventually adopted as a part of the Bill of Rights in the U.S. Constitution in 1791. Consulting with Mason, Thomas Ludwell Lee suggested two additional paragraphs, providing protections for the press and striking down ex post facto laws. Later, the drafting committee added other rights to the list, such as banning excessive bail and cruel and unusual punishment.

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