Religious Liberty Day, May 24: More Testimony
May 24 is a fine day to celebrate Authentic Religious Liberty.
That’s when, in 1689, William & Mary, new dual monarchs in England, signed into law the Toleration Act.
This law allowed Quakers to meet openly, without penalty, after 30years of persecution. And it respected Quaker scruples about taking oaths by permitting an unsworn declaration of loyalty to the Crown. It marked the dawn of religious liberty for them.
The Toleration Act also opened the doors for Baptists & many other dissenting churches. But its reach was limited: it did not include Catholics or Jews, or any non-trinitarian Christian. Those restrictions lasted in to the 1800s.
Nevertheless, the Toleration Act was a turning point toward authentic religious liberty, not only in England but in its dominions, including those in North America.
So May 24th is a perfect day to remember (and practice) real religious liberty.
And so is every other day.
In fact, 250 years later, Bayard Rustin, an activist African American Quaker, celebrated it by continuing the struggle.
Rustin: “I have seen periods of progress followed by reaction. I have seen the hopes and aspirations of Negroes rise during World War II, only to be smashed during the Eisenhower years. I am seeing the victories of the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations destroyed by Richard Nixon.”
Bayard, there have been more ups and down since then. But I think it’s been increasingly tough in recent years, and this year is really awful. Maybe it’s better that you’re not here to see it. But I’d sure appreciate your counsel.
Rustin: “I think the movement contributed to this nation a sense of universal freedom. Precisely because women saw our movement in the sixties, stimulated them to want their rights. The fact that students saw the movement of the sixties created a student movement in this country. The fact that the people were against the war in Vietnam, saw us go into the street and win, made it possible for them to have the courage to go into the street and win, and the lesson that I would like to see from this is, that we must now find a way to deal with the problem of full employment, and as surely as we were able to bring about the Civil Rights Act, the voter rights act–the Voting Rights Act, I mean the education act, and the housing act, so is it possible for all of us now to combine our forces in a coalition, including Catholic, Protestant, Jew and labor and blacks and Puerto Ricans and Mexican-Americans and all other minorities, to bring about the one thing that will bring peace internally to the United States. And that is that any man who wants a job, or any woman who wants a job, shall not be left unemployed.”
There are glimpses of that, on a pretty cloudy horizon. How do we keep it going?
Rustin: “My activism did not spring from my being gay, or, for that matter, from my being black. Rather, it is rooted fundamentally in my Quaker upbringing and the values that were instilled in me by my grandparents who reared me.”