George Mason on Freedom of Religion

Recently I reviewed William Martin’s comments about the alleged Christian foundation of America. Here I quote the words of George Mason, a “Father of the Bill of Rights.”

In his Virginia Declaration of Rights, Mason writes:

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.

This again illustrates that America was a “Christian nation” only in the weak sense that most of its founders were Christians, not in the sense that the government was Christian in nature. Here Mason and the people of Virginia declare their support for religious liberty, which requires a separation between church and government.

True, Mason attributes certain virtues to Christianity, but he does not claim that Christianity is the only road to virtue, and indeed he suggests that people other than Christians can reach similar ends. The implication of Mason’s view here is that there is some moral foundation beneath Christianity, open to reason apart from religion. This is but a short step to my view, which is that the proper moral foundation is open to reason and rests entirely apart from religion.