Trial of C.B. Reynolds for Blasphemy
And so I might go on with the great men of today. Who are the men who are leading the race upward and shedding light in the intellectual world? They are the men declared by that statute to be criminals. Mr. Spencer could not publish his books in the State of New Jersey. He would be arrested, tried, and imprisoned; and yet that man has added to the intellectual wealth of the world.
So with Huxley, so with Tyndall, so with Helmholtz -- so with the greatest thinkers and greatest writers of modern times.
You may not agree with these men -- and what does that prove? It simply proves that they do not agree with you -- that is all. Who is to blame? I do not know. They may be wrong, and you may be right; but if they had the power, and put you in the penitentiary simply because you differed with them, they would be savages; and if you have the power and imprison men because they differ from you why then, of course, you are savages.
No; I believe in intellectual hospitality. I love men that have a little horizon to their minds -- a little sky, a little scope. I hate anything that is narrow and pinched and withered and mean and crawling, and that is willing to live on dust. I believe in creating such an atmosphere that things will burst into blossom. I believe in good will, good health, good fellowship, good feeling -- and if there is any God on the earth, or in heaven, let us hope that he will be generous and grand. Do you not see what the effect will be? I am not cursing you because you are a Methodist, and not damning you because you are a Catholic, or because you are an Infidel -- a good man is more than all of these. The grandest of all things is to be in the highest and noblest sense a man.
Now let us see the frightful things that this man, the defendant in this case, has done. Let me read the charges against him as set out in this indictment.
I shall insist that this statute does not cover any publication -- that it covers simply speech -- not in writing, not in book or pamphlet. Let us see:
"This Bible describes God as so loving that he drowned the whole world in his mad fury."
Well, the great question about that is, is it true? Does the Bible describe God as having drowned the whole world with the exception of eight people? Does it, or does it not? I do not know whether there is anybody in this county who has really read the Bible, but I believe the story of the flood is there. It does say that God destroyed all flesh, and that he did so because he was angry. He says so himself, if the Bible be true.
The defendant has simply repeated what is in the Bible. The Bible says that God is loving, and says that he drowned the world, and that he was angry. Is it blasphemy to quote from the "Sacred Scriptures"?
"Because it was so much worse than he, knowing all things, ever supposed it could be."
Well, the Bible does say that he repented having made man. Now, is there any blasphemy in saying that the Bible is true? That is the only question. It is a fact that God, according to the Bible, did drown nearly everybody. If God knows all things, he must have known at the time he made them that he was going to drown them. Is it likely that a being of infinite wisdom would deliberately do what he knew he must undo? Is it blasphemy to ask that question? Have you a right to think about it at all? If you have, you have the right to tell somebody what you think -- if not, you have no right to discuss it, no right to think about it. All you have to do is to read it and believe it -- to open your mouth like a young robin, and swallow -- worms or shingle nails -- no matter which.
The defendant further blasphemed and said that:
"An all-wise, unchangeable God, who got out of patience with a world which was just what his own stupid blundering had made it, knew no better way out of the muddle than to destroy it by drowning!"
Is that true? Was not the world exactly as God made it? Certainly. Did he not, if the Bible is true, drown the people? He did. Did he know he would drown them when he made them? He did. Did he know they ought to be drowned when they were made? He did. Where then, is the blasphemy in saying so? There is not a minister in this world who could explain it -- who would be permitted to explain it -- under this statute. And yet you would arrest this man and put him in the penitentiary. But after you lock him in the cell, there remains the question still: Is it possible that a good and wise God, knowing that he was going to drown them, made millions of people? What did he make them for? I do not know. I do not pretend to be wise enough to answer that question. Of course, you cannot answer the question. Is there anything blasphemous in that? Would it be blasphemy in me to say I do not believe that any God ever made men, women and children -- mothers, with babes clasped to their breasts, and then sent a flood to fill the world with death?
A rain lasting for forty days -- the water rising hour by hour, and the poor wretched children of God climbing to the tops of their houses -- then to the tops of the hills. The water still rising -- no mercy. The people climbing higher and higher, looking to the mountains for salvation -- the merciless rain still falling, the inexorable flood still rising. Children falling from the arms of mothers -- no pity. The highest hills covered -- infancy and old age mingling in death -- the cries of women, the sobs and sighs lost in the roar of waves -- the heavens still relentless. The mountains are covered -- a shoreless sea rolls round the world, and on its billows are billions of corpses.
This is the greatest crime that man has imagined, and this crime is called a deed of infinite mercy.
Do you believe that? I do not believe one word of it, and I have the right to say to all the world that this is false.
If there be a good God, the story is not true. If there be a wise God, the story is not true. Ought an honest man to be sent to the penitentiary for simply telling the truth?
Suppose we had a statute that whoever scoffed at science -- whoever by profane language should bring the rule of three into contempt, or whoever should attack the proposition that two parallel lines will never include a space, should be sent to the penitentiary -- what would you think of it? It would be just as wise and just as idiotic as this.
And what else says the defendant?
"The Bible-God says that his people made him jealous." "Provoked him to anger."
Is that true? It is. If it is true, is it blasphemous?
Let us read another line:
"And now he will raise the mischief with them; that his anger burns like hell."
That is true. The Bible says of God: "My anger burns to the lowest hell." And that is all that the defendant says. Every word of it is in the Bible. He simply does not believe it -- and for that reason is a " blasphemer."
I say to you now, gentlemen, -- and I shall argue to the Court, -- that there is not in what I have read a solitary blasphemous word -- not a word that has not been said in hundreds of pulpits in the Christian world. Theodore Parker, a Unitarian, speaking of this Bible God -- said: "Vishnu with a necklace of skulls, Vishnu with bracelets of living, hissing serpents, is a figure of Love and Mercy compared to the God of the Old Testament." That, we might call "blasphemy," but not what I have read.
Let us read on:
"He would destroy them all were it not that he feared the wrath of the enemy."
That is in the Bible -- word for word. Then the defendant in astonishment says:
"The Almighty God afraid of his enemies!" That is what the Bible says. What does it mean? If the Bible is true, God was afraid.
"Can the mind conceive of more horrid blasphemy?"
Is not that true? If God be infinitely good and wise and powerful, is it possible, he is afraid of anything? If the defendant had said that God was afraid of his enemies, that might have been blasphemy -- but this man says the Bible says that, and you are asked to say that it is blasphemy. Now, up to this point there is no blasphemy, even if you were to enforce this infamous statute -- this savage law.
"The Old Testament records, for our instruction in morals, the most foul and bestial instances of fornication, incest, and polygamy, perpetrated by God's own saints, and the New Testament indorse these lecherous wretches as examples for all good Christians to follow."
Now, is it not a fact that the Old Testament does uphold polygamy? Abraham would have gotten into trouble in New Jersey -- no doubt of that. Sarah could have obtained a divorce in this State -- no doubt of that. What is the use of telling a falsehood about it? Let us tell the truth about the patriarchs.
Everybody knows that the same is true of Moses. We have all heard of Solomon -- a gentleman with five or six hundred wives, and three or four hundred other ladies with whom he was acquainted. This is simply what the defendant says. Is there any blasphemy about that? It is only the truth. If Solomon were living in the United States today, we would put him in the penitentiary. You know that under the Edmunds Mormon law he would be locked up. If you should present a petition signed by his eleven hundred wives, you could not get him out.
So it was with David. There are some splendid things about David, of course. I admit that, and pay my tribute of respect to his courage -- but he happened to have ten or twelve wives too many, so he shut them up, put them in a kind of penitentiary and kept them there till they died. That would not be considered good conduct even in Morristown. You know that. Is it any harm to speak of it? There are plenty of ministers here to set it right -- thousands of them all over the country, every one with his chance to talk all day Sunday and nobody to say a word back. The pew cannot reply to the pulpit, you know; it has just to sit there and take it. If there is any harm in this, if it is not true, they ought to answer it. But it is here, and the only answer is an indictment.
I say that Lot was a bad man. So I say of Abraham, and of Jacob. Did you ever know of a more despicable fraud practiced by one brother on another than Jacob practiced on Esau? My sympathies have always been with Esau. He seemed to be a manly man. Is it blasphemy to say that you do not like a hypocrite, a murderer, or a thief, because his name is in the Bible? How do you know what such men are mentioned for? Maybe they are mentioned as examples, and you certainly ought not to be led away and induced to imagine that a man with seven hundred wives is a pattern of domestic propriety, one to be followed by yourself and your sons. I might go on and mention the names of hundreds of others who committed every conceivable crime in the name of religion -- who declared war, and on the field of battle killed men, women and babes, even children yet unborn, in the name of the most merciful God. The Bible is filled with the names and crimes of these sacred savages, these inspired beasts. Any man who says that a God of love commanded the commission of these crimes is, to say the least of it, mistaken. If there be a God, then it is blasphemous to charge him with the commission of crime.
But let us read further from this indictment:
"The aforesaid printed document contains other scandalous, infamous and blasphemous matters and things, to the tenor and effect following, that is to say" -- Then comes this particularly blasphemous line:
"Now, reader, take time and calmly think it over."
Gentlemen, there are many things I have read that I should not have expressed in exactly the same language used by the defendant, and many things that I am going to read I might not have said at all, but the defendant had the right to say every word with which he is charged in this indictment. He had the right to give his honest thought, no matter whether any human being agreed with what he said or not, and no matter whether any other man approved of the manner in which he said these things. I defend his right to speak, whether I believe in what he spoke or not, or in the propriety of saying what he did. I should defend a man just as cheerfully who had spoken against my doctrine, as one who had spoken against the popular superstitions of my time. It would make no difference to me how unjust the attack was upon my belief -- how maliciously ingenious; and no matter how sacred the conviction that was attacked, I would defend the freedom of speech. And why? Because no attack can be answered by force, no argument can be refuted by a blow, or by imprisonment, or by fine. You may imprison the man, but the argument is free; you may fell the man to the earth, but the statement stands.
The defendant in this case has attacked certain beliefs, thought by the Christian world to be sacred. Yet, after all, nothing is sacred but the truth, and by truth I mean what a man sincerely and honestly believes. The defendant says:
"Take time to calmly think it over: Was a Jewish girl the mother of God, the mother of your God?"
The defendant probably asked this question, supposing that it must be answered by all sensible people in the negative. If the Christian religion is true, then a Jewish girl was the mother of Almighty God. Personally, if the doctrine is true, I have no fault to find with the statement that a Jewish maiden was the mother of God. Millions believe that this is true. I do not believe -- but who knows? If a God came from the throne of the universe, came to this world and became the child of a pure and loving woman, it would not lessen, in my eyes, the dignity or the greatness of that God.
There is no more perfect picture on the earth, or within the imagination of man, than a mother holding in her thrilled and happy arms a child, the fruit of love.
No matter how the statement is made, the fact remains the same. A Jewish girl became the mother of God. If the Bible is true, to repeat it, even according to your law, is not blasphemous; to doubt or deny it is not contrary to your constitution.
To this defendant it seemed improbable that God was ever born of woman, was ever held in the lap of a mother; and because he cannot believe this, he is charged with blasphemy. Could you pour contempt on Shakespeare by saying that his mother was a woman -- by saying that he was once a poor, crying, little, helpless child? Of course he was, and he afterwards became the greatest human being that ever touched earth -- the only man whose intellectual wings have reached from sky to sky, and he was once a crying babe. What of it? Does that cast any scorn or contempt upon him? Does this take away any of the music from "Midsummer Night's Dream"? any of the passionate wealth from "Antony and Cleopatra," any philosophy from "Macbeth," any intellectual grandeur from "King Lear"? On the contrary, these great productions of the brain show the growth of the dimpled babe, give every mother a splendid dream and hope for her child, and cover every cradle with a sublime possibility.
The defendant is also charged with having said that:
"God cried and screamed."
Why not? If he was absolutely a child, he was like other children, -- like yours, like mine. I have seen the time, when absent from home, that I would have given more to have heard my children cry, than to have heard the finest orchestra that ever made the air burst into flower. What if God did cry? It simply shows that his humanity was real and not assumed, that it was a tragedy, real, and not a poor pretense. And the defendant also says that if the orthodox religion be true, that the:
"God of the Universe kicked, and flung about his little arms, and made aimless dashes into space with his little fists."
Is there anything in this that is blasphemous? One of the best pictures I ever saw of the Virgin and Child was painted by the Spaniard, Murillo. Christ appears to be a truly natural, chubby, happy babe. Such a picture takes nothing from the majesty, the beauty, or the glory of the incarnation.
I think it is the best thing about the Catholic Church that it lifts up for adoration and admiration, a mother -- that it pays what it calls "Divine honors " to a woman. There is certainly goodness in that, and where a church has so few practices that are good, I am willing to point this one out. It is the one redeeming feature about Catholicism, that it teaches the worship of a woman.
The defendant says more about the childhood of Christ: He goes so far as to say, that:
"He was found staring foolishly at his own little toes."
And why not? The Bible says, that "he increased in wisdom and stature." The defendant might have referred to something far more improbable. In the same verse in which St. Luke says that Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, will be found the assertion that he increased in favor with God and man. The defendant might have asked how it was that the love of God for God increased.
But the defendant has simply stated that the child Jesus grew, as other children grow; that he acted like other children, and if he did, it is more than probable that he did stare at his own toes. I have laughed many a time to see little children astonished with the sight of their feet. They seem to wonder what on earth puts the little toes in motion. Certainly there is nothing blasphemous in supposing that the feet of Christ amused him, precisely as the feet of other children have amused them. There is nothing blasphemous about this; on the contrary, it is beautiful. If I believed in the existence of God, the Creator of this world, the Being who, with the hand of infinity, sowed the fields of space with stars, as a farmer sows his grain, I should like to think of him as a little, dimpled babe, overflowing with joy, sitting upon the knees of a loving mother. The ministers themselves might take a lesson even from the man who is charged with blasphemy, and make an effort to bring an infinite God a little nearer to the human heart.
The defendant also says, speaking of the infant Christ,
"He was nursed at Mary's breast."
Yes, and if the story be true, that is the tenderest fact in it. Nursed at the breast of woman. No painting, no statue, no words can make a deeper and a tenderer impression upon the heart of man than this: The infinite God, a babe, nursed at the holy breast of woman.
You see these things do not strike all people the same. To a man that has been raised on the orthodox desert, these things are incomprehensible. He has been robbed of his humanity. He has no humor, nothing but the stupid and the solemn. His fancy sits with folded wings.
Imagination, like the atmosphere of spring, woos every seed of earth to seek the blue of heaven, and whispers of bud and flower and fruit. Imagination gathers from every field of thought and pours the wealth of many lives into the lap of one. To the contracted, to the cast-iron people who believe in heartless and inhuman creeds, the words of the defendant seem blasphemous, and to them the thought that God was a little child is monstrous.
They cannot bear to hear it said that he nursed at the breast of a maiden, that he was wrapped in swaddling clothes, that he had the joys and sorrows of other babes. I hope, gentlemen, that not only you, but the attorneys for the prosecution, have read what is known as the " Apocryphal New Testament," books that were once considered inspired, once admitted to be genuine, and that once formed a part of our New Testament. I hope you have read the books of Joseph and Mary, of the Shepherd of Hermes, of the Infancy and of Mary, in which many of the things done by the youthful Christ are described -- books that were once the delight of the Christian world; books that gave joy to children, because in them they read that Christ made little birds of clay, that would at his command stretch out their wings and fly with joy above his head. If the defendant in this case had said anything like that, here in the State of New Jersey, he would have been indicted; the orthodox ministers would have shouted "blasphemy," and yet, these little stories made the name of Christ dearer to children.
The church of today lacks sympathy; the theologians are without affection. After all, sympathy is genius. A man who really sympathizes with another understands him. A man who sympathizes with a religion, instantly sees the good that is in it, and the man who sympathizes with the right, sees the evil that a creed contains.
But the defendant, still speaking of the infant Christ is charged with having said:
"God smiled when he was comfortable. He lay in a cradle and was rocked to sleep."
Yes, and there is no more beautiful picture than that. Let some great religious genius paint a picture of this kind -- of a babe smiling with content, rocked in the cradle by the mother who bends tenderly and proudly above him. There could be no more beautiful, no more touching, picture than this. What would I not give for a picture of Shakespeare as a babe -- a picture that was a likeness -- rocked by his mother? I would give more for this than for any painting that now enriches the walls of the world.
The defendant also says, that:
"God was sick when cutting his teeth."
And what of that? We are told that he was tempted in all points, as we are. That is to say, he was afflicted, he was hungry, he was thirsty, he suffered the pains and miseries common to man. Otherwise, he was not flesh; he was not human.
"He caught the measles, the mumps, the scarlet fever and the whooping cough." Certainly he was liable to have these diseases, for he was, in fact, a child. Other children have them. Other children, loved as dearly by their mothers as Christ could have been by his, and yet they are taken from the little family by fever; taken, it may be, and buried in the snow, while the poor mother goes sadly home, wishing that she was lying by its side. All that can be said of every word in this address, about Christ and about his childhood, amounts to this: that he lived the life of a child; that he acted like other children. I have read you substantially what he has said, and this is considered blasphemous.
He has said, that:
"According to the Old Testament, the God of the Christian world commanded People to destroy each other."
If the Bible is true, then the statement of the defendant is true. Is it calculated to bring God into contempt to deny that he upheld polygamy, that he ever commanded one of his generals to rip open with the sword of war, the woman with child? Is it blasphemy to deny that a God of infinite love gave such commandments? Is such a denial calculated to pour contempt and scorn upon the God of the orthodox? Is it blasphemous to deny that God commanded his children to murder each other? Is it blasphemous to say that he was benevolent, merciful, and just?
It is impossible to say that the Bible is true and that God is good. I do not believe that a God made this world, filled it with people and then drowned them. I do not believe that infinite wisdom ever made a mistake. If there be any God he was too good to commit such an infinite crime, too wise to make such a mistake. Is this blasphemy? Is it blasphemy to say that Solomon was not a virtuous man, or that David was an adulterer?
Must we say, when this ancient King had one of his best generals placed in the front of the battle -- deserted him and had him murdered for the purpose of stealing his wife, that he was "a man after God's own heart"? Suppose the defendant in this case were guilty of something like that? Uriah was fighting for his country, fighting the battles of David, the King. David wanted to take from him his wife. He sent for Joab, his commander-in-chief, and said to him:
"Make a feint to attack a town. Put Uriah at the front of the attacking force, and when the people sally forth from the town to defend its gate, fall back so that this gallant, noble, patriotic man may be slain."
This was done and the widow was stolen by the King. Is it blasphemy to tell the truth and to say exactly what David was? Let us be honest with each other; let us be honest with this defendant.
For thousands of years men have taught that the ancient patriarchs were sacred, that they were far better than the men of modern times, that what was in them a virtue, is in us a crime. Children are taught in Sunday schools to admire and respect these criminals of the ancient days. The time has come to tell the truth about these men, to call things by their proper names, and above all, to stand by the right, by the truth, by mercy, and by justice. If what the defendant has said is blasphemy under this statute, then the question arises, is the statute in accordance with the Constitution? If this statute is constitutional, why has it been allowed to sleep for all these years? I take this position: Any law made for the preserve of a human right, made to guard a human being, cannot sleep long enough to die; but any law that deprives a human being of a natural right -- if that law goes to sleep, it never wakes, it sleeps the sleep of death.
I call the attention of the Court to that remarkable case in England where, only a few years ago, a man appealed to trial by battle. The law allowing trial by battle had been asleep in the statute book of England for more than two hundred years, and yet the court held that, in spite of the fact that the law had been asleep -- it being a law in favor of a defendant -- he was entitled to trial by battle. And why? Because it was a statute at the time made in defense of a human right, and that statute could not sleep long enough or soundly enough to die. In consequence of this decision, the Parliament of England passed a special act, doing away forever with the trial by battle.
When a statute attacks an individual right, the State must never let it sleep. When it attacks the right of the public at large and is allowed to pass into a state of slumber, it cannot be raised for the purpose of punishing an individual.
Now, gentlemen, a few words more. I take an almost infinite interest in this trial, and before you decide, I am exceedingly anxious that you should understand with clearness the thoughts I have expressed upon this subject. I want you to know how the civilized feel, and the position now taken by the leaders of the world.
A few years ago almost everything spoken against the grossest possible superstition was considered blasphemous. The altar hedged itself about with the sword; the Priest went in partnership with the King. In those days statutes were leveled against all human speech. Men were convicted of blasphemy because they believed in an actual personal God; because they insisted that God had body and parts. Men were convicted of blasphemy because they denied that God had form. They have been imprisoned for denying the doctrine of transubstantiation, and they have been torn in pieces for defending that doctrine. There are but few dogmas now believed by any Christian church that have not at some time been denounced as blasphemous.
When Henry VIII put himself at the head of the Episcopal Church a creed was made, and in that creed there were five dogmas that must, of necessity, be believed. Anybody who denied any one, was to be punished -- for the first offence, with fine, with imprisonment, or branding, and for the second offence, with death. Not one of these five dogmas is now a part of the creed of the Church of England.
So I could go on for days and weeks and months, showing that hundreds and hundreds of religious dogmas, to deny which was death, have been either changed or abandoned for others nearly as absurd as the old ones were. It may be, however, sufficient to say, that wherever the church has had power it has been a crime for any man to speak his honest thought. No church has ever been willing that any opponent should give a transcript of his mind. Every church in power has appealed to brute force, to the sword, for the purpose of sustaining its creed. Not one has had the courage to occupy the open field. The church has not been satisfied with calling Infidels and unbelievers blasphemers. Each church has accused nearly every other church of being a blasphemer. Every pioneer has been branded as a criminal. The Catholics called Martin Luther a blasphemer, and Martin Luther called Copernicus a blasphemer. Pious ignorance always regards intelligence as a kind of blasphemy. Some of the greatest men of the world, some of the best, have been put to death for the crime of blasphemy, that is to say, for the crime of endeavoring to benefit their fellowmen.
As long as the church has the power to close the lips of men, so long and no longer will superstition rule this world.
Blasphemy is the word that the majority hisses into the ear of the few.
After every argument of the church has been answered, has been refuted, then the church cries, "Blasphemy!"
Blasphemy is what an old mistake says of a newly discovered truth.
Blasphemy is what a withered last year's leaf says to a this year's bud.
Blasphemy is the bulwark of religious prejudice.
Blasphemy is the breastplate of the heartless.
And let me say now, that the crime of blasphemy, as set out in this statute, is impossible. No man can blaspheme a book. No man can commit blasphemy by telling his honest thought. No man can blaspheme a God, or a Holy Ghost, or a Son of God. The Infinite cannot be blasphemed. In the olden time, in the days of savagery and superstition, when some poor man was struck by lightning, or when a blackened mark was left on the breast of a wife and mother, the poor savage supposed that some god, angered by something he had done, had taken his revenge. What else did the savage suppose? He believed that this god had the same feelings, with regard to the loyalty of his subjects, that an earthly chief had, or an earthly king had, with regard to the loyalty or treachery of members of his tribe, or citizens of his kingdom. So the savage said, when his country was visited by a calamity, when the flood swept the people away, or the storm scattered their poor houses in fragments: "We have allowed some Freethinker to live; some one is in our town or village who has not brought his gift to the priest, his incense to the altar; some man of our tribe or of our country does not respect our god." Then, for the purpose of appeasing the supposed god, for the purpose of again winning a smile from heaven, for the purpose of securing a little sunlight for their fields and homes, they drag the accused man from his home, from his wife and children, and with all the ceremonies of pious brutality, shed his blood. They did it in self-defense; they believed that they were saving their own lives and the lives of their children; they did it to appease their god. Most people are beyond that point. Now when disease visits a community, the intelligent do not say the disease came because the people were wicked; when the cholera comes, it is not because of the Methodists, of the Catholics, of the Presbyterians, or of the Infidels. When the wind destroys a town in the far West, it is not because somebody there had spoken his honest thoughts. We are beginning to see that the wind blows and destroys without the slightest reference to man, without the slightest care whether it destroys the good or the bad, the irreligious or the religious. When the lightning leaps from the clouds it is just as likely to strike a good man as a bad man, and when the great serpents of flame climb around the houses of men, they burn just as gladly and just as joyously, the home of virtue, as they do the den and lair of vice.
Then the reason for all these laws has failed. The laws were made on account of a superstition. That superstition has faded from the minds of intelligent men, and, as a consequence, the laws based on the superstition ought to fail.
There is one splendid thing in nature, and that is that men and nations must reap the consequences of their acts -- reap them in this world, if they live, and in another if there be one. The man who leaves this world a bad man, a malicious man, will probably be the same man when he reaches another realm, and the man who leaves this shore good, charitable, and honest will be good, charitable, and honest no matter on what star he lives again. The world is growing sensible upon these subjects, and as we grow sensible, we grow charitable.
Another reason has been given for these laws against blasphemy, the most absurd reason that can by any possibility be given. It is this: There should be laws against blasphemy, because the man who utters blasphemy endangers the public peace.
Is it possible that Christians will break the peace? Is it possible that they will violate the law? Is it probable that Christians will congregate together and make a mob, simply because a man has given an opinion against their religion? What is their religion? They say, "If a man smites you on one cheek, turn the other also." They say, "We must love our neighbors as we love ourselves." Is it possible then, that you can make a mob out of Christians -- that these men, who love even their enemies, will attack others, and will destroy life, in the name of universal love? And yet, Christians themselves say that there ought to be laws against blasphemy, for fear that Christians, who are controlled by universal love, will become so outraged, when they hear an honest man express an honest thought, that they will leap upon him and tear him in pieces.
What is blasphemy? I will give you a definition; I will give you my thought upon this subject. What is real blasphemy?
To live on the unpaid labor of other men -- that is blasphemy.
To enslave your fellow man, to put chains upon his body -- that is blasphemy.
To enslave the minds of men, to put manacles upon the brain, padlocks upon the lips -- that is blasphemy.
To deny what you believe to be true, to admit to be true what you believe to be a lie -- that is blasphemy.
To strike the weak and unprotected, in order that you may gain the applause of the ignorant and superstitious mob -- that is blasphemy.
To persecute the intelligent few, at the command of the ignorant many -- that is blasphemy.
To forge chains, to build dungeons, for your honest fellow-men -- that is blasphemy.
To pollute the souls of children with the dogma of eternal pain -- that is blasphemy.
To violate your conscience -- that is blasphemy.
The jury that gives an unjust verdict, and the judge who pronounces an unjust sentence, are blasphemers.
The man who bows to public opinion against his better judgment and against his honest conviction, is a blasphemer.
Why should we fear our fellow men? Why should not each human being have the right, so far as thought and its expression are concerned, of all the world? What harm can come from an honest interchange of thought?
I have been giving you my real ideas. I have spoken freely, and yet the sun rose this morning, just the same as it always has. There is no particular change visible in the world, and I do not see but that we are all as happy today as though we had spent yesterday in making somebody else miserable. I denounced on yesterday the superstitions of the Christian world, and yet, last night I slept the sleep of peace. You will pardon me for saying again that I feel the greatest possible interest in the result of this trial, in the principle at stake. This is my only apology, my only excuse, for taking your time. For years I have felt that the great battle for human liberty, the battle that has covered thousands of fields with heroic dead, had finally been won. When I read the history of this world, of what has been endured, of what has been suffered, of the heroism and infinite courage of the intellectual and honest few, battling with the countless serfs and slaves of kings and priests, of tyranny, of hypocrisy, of ignorance and prejudice, of faith and fear, there was in my heart the hope that the great battle had been fought, and that the human race, in its march towards the dawn, had passed midnight, and that the "great balance weighed up morning." This hope, this feeling, gave me the greatest possible joy. When I thought of the many who had been burnt, of how often the sons of liberty had perished in ashes, of how many of the noblest and greatest had stood upon scaffolds, and of the countless hearts, the grandest that ever throbbed in human breasts, that had been broken by the tyranny of church and state, of how many of the noble and loving had sighed themselves away in dungeons, the only consolation was that the last bastille had fallen, that the dungeons of the Inquisition had been torn down and that the scaffolds of the world could no longer be wet with heroic blood.
You know that sometimes, after a great battle has been fought, and one of the armies has been broken, and its fortifications carried, there are occasional stragglers beyond the great field, stragglers who know nothing of the fate of their army, know nothing of the victory, and for that reason, fight on. There are a few such stragglers in the State of New Jersey. They have never heard of the great victory. They do not know that in all civilized countries the hosts of superstition have been put to flight. They do not know that Freethinkers, Infidels, are today the leaders of the intellectual armies of the world.
One of the last trials of this character, tried in Great Britain -- and that is the country that our ancestors fought in the sacred name of liberty -- one of the last trials in that country, a country ruled by a state church, ruled by a woman who was born a queen, ruled by dukes and nobles and lords, children of ancient robbers -- was in the year 1843. George Jacob Holyoake, one of the best of the human race, was imprisoned on a charge of Atheism, charged with having written a pamphlet and having made a speech in which he had denied the existence of the British God. The judge who tried him, who passed sentence upon him, went down to his grave with a stain upon his intellect and upon his honor. All the real intelligence of Great Britain rebelled against the outrage. There was a trial after that to which I will call your attention. Judge Coleridge, father of the present Chief Justice of England, presided at this trial. A poor man by the name of Thomas Pooley, a man who dug wells for a living, wrote on the gate of a priest, that, if people would burn their Bibles and scatter the ashes on the lands, the crops would be better, and that they would also save a good deal of money in tithes. He wrote several sentences of a kindred character. He was a curious man. He had an idea that the world was a living, breathing animal. He would not dig a well beyond a certain depth for fear he might inflict pain upon this animal, the earth. He was tried before judge Coleridge, on that charge. An infinite God was about to be dethroned, because an honest well-digger had written his sentiments on the fence of a parson. He was indicted, tried, convicted and sentenced to prison. Afterward, many intelligent people asked for his pardon, on the ground that he was in danger of becoming insane. The judge refused to sign the petition. The pardon was refused. Long before his sentence expired, he became a raving maniac. He was removed to an asylum and there died. Some of the greatest men in England attacked that judge, among these, Mr. Buckle, author of "The History of Civilization in England," one of the greatest books in this world. Mr. Buckle denounced judge Coleridge. He brought him before the bar of English opinion, and there was not a man in England, whose opinion was worth anything, who did not agree with Mr. Buckle, and did not with him, declare the conviction of Thomas Pooley to be an infamous outrage. What were the reasons given? This, among others: The law was dead; it had been asleep for many years; it was a law passed during the ignorance of the Middle Ages, and a law that came out of the dungeon of religious persecution; a law that was appealed to by bigots and by hypocrites, to punish, to imprison an honest man.
In many parts of this country, people have entertained the idea that New England was still filled with the spirit of Puritanism, filled with the descendants of those who killed Quakers in the name of universal benevolence, and traded Quaker children in the Barbados for rum, for the purpose of establishing the fact that God is an infinite father.
Yet, the last trial in Massachusetts on a charge like this, was when Abner Kneeland was indicted on a charge of Atheism. He was tried for having written this sentence: "The Universalists believe in a God which I do not." He was convicted and imprisoned. Chief Justice Shaw upheld the decision, and upheld it because he was afraid of public opinion; upheld it, although he must have known that the statute under which Kneeland was indicted was clearly and plainly in violation of the Constitution. No man can read the decision of Justice Shaw without being convinced that he was absolutely dominated, either by bigotry, or hypocrisy. One of the judges of that court, a noble man, wrote a dissenting opinion, and in that dissenting opinion is the argument of a civilized, of an enlightened jurist. No man can answer the dissenting opinion of Justice Morton. The case against Kneeland was tried more than fifty years ago, and there has been none since in the New England States; and this case, that we are now trying, is the first ever tried in New jersey. The fact that it is the first, certifies to my interpretation of this statute, and it also certifies to the toleration and to the civilization of the people of this State. The statute is upon your books. You inherited it from your ignorant ancestors, and they inherited it from their savage ancestors. The people of New Jersey were heirs of the mistakes and of the atrocities of ancient England.
It is too late to enforce a law like this. Why has it been allowed to slumber? Who obtained this indictment? Were they actuated by good and noble motives? Had they the public weal at heart, or were they simply endeavoring to be revenged upon this defendant? Were they willing to disgrace the State, in order that they might punish him?
I have given you my definition of blasphemy, and now the question arises, what is worship? Who is a worshiper? What is prayer? What is real religion? Let me answer these questions.
Good, honest, faithful work, is worship. The man who ploughs the fields and fells the forests; the man who works in mines; the man who battles with the winds and waves out on the wide sea, controlling the commerce of the world -- these men are worshipers. The man who goes into the forest, leading his wife by the hand, who builds him a cabin, who makes a home in the wilderness, who helps to people and civilize and cultivate a continent, is a worshiper.
Labor is the only prayer that Nature answers; it is the only prayer that deserves an answer -- good, honest, noble work.
A woman whose husband has gone down to the gutter, gone down to degradation and filth; the woman who follows him and lifts him out of the mire and presses him to her noble heart, until he becomes a man once more, this woman is a worshiper. Her act is worship.
The poor man and the poor woman who work night and day, in order that they may give education to their children, so that they may have a better life than their father and mother had; the parents who deny themselves the comforts of life, that they may lay up something to help their children to a higher place -- they are worshipers; and the children who, after they reap the benefit of this worship, become ashamed of their parents, are blasphemers.
The man who sits by the bed of his invalid wife -- a wife prematurely old and gray -- the husband who sits by her bed and holds her thin, wan hand in his as lovingly, and kisses it as rapturously, as passionately, as when it was dimpled -- that is worship; that man is a worshiper; that is real religion.
Whoever increases the sum of human joy, is a worshiper. He who adds to the sum of human misery, is a blasphemer.
Gentlemen, you can never make me believe -- no statute can ever convince me, that there is any infinite Being in this universe who hates an honest man. It is impossible to satisfy me that there is any God, or can be any God, who holds in abhorrence a soul that has the courage to express his thought. Neither can the whole world convince me that any man should be punished, either in this world or in the next, for being candid with his fellow-men. If you send men to the penitentiary for speaking their thoughts, for endeavoring to enlighten their fellows, then the penitentiary will become a place of honor, and the victim will step from it -- not stained, not disgraced, but clad in robes of glory.
Let us take one more step.
What is holy, what is sacred? I reply that human happiness is holy, human rights are holy. The body and soul of man -- these are sacred. The liberty of man is of far more importance than any book; the rights of man, more sacred than any religion -- than any Scriptures, whether inspired or not.
What we want is the truth, and does anyone suppose that all of the truth is confined in one book -- that the mysteries of the whole world are explained by one volume?
All that is -- all that conveys information to man -- all that has been produced by the past -- all that now exists -- should be considered by an intelligent man. All the known truths of this world -- all the philosophy, all the poems, all the pictures, all the statues, all the entrancing music -- the prattle of babes, the lullaby of mothers, the words of honest men, the trumpet calls to duty -- all these make up the bible of the world -- everything that is noble and true and free, you will find in this great book.
If we wish to be true to ourselves, -- if we wish to benefit our fellow men -- if we wish to live honorable lives -- we will give to every other human being every right that we claim for ourselves.
There is another thing that should be remembered by you. You are the judges of the law, as well as the judges of the facts. In a case like this, you are the final judges as to what the law is; and if you acquit, no court can reverse your verdict. To prevent the least misconception, let me state to you again what I claim: First. I claim that the Constitution of New Jersey declares that:
"The liberty of speech shall not be abridged."
Second. That this statute, under which this indictment is found, is unconstitutional, because it does abridge the liberty of speech; it does exactly that which the constitution emphatically says shall not be done.
Third. I claim, also, that under this law -- even if it be constitutional -- the words charged in this indictment do not amount to blasphemy, read even in the light, or rather in the darkness, of this statute.
Do not, I pray you, forget this point. Do not forget, that, no matter what the Court may tell you about the law -- how good it is, or how bad it is -- no matter what the Court may instruct you on that subject -- do not forget one thing, and that is: That the words charged in the indictment are the only words that you can take into consideration in this case. Remember that no matter what else may be in the pamphlet -- no matter what pictures or cartoons there may be of the gentlemen in Boonton who mobbed this man in the name of universal liberty and love -- do not forget that you have no right to take one word into account except the exact words set out in this indictment -- that is to say, the words that I have read to you. Upon this point the Court will instruct you that you have nothing to do with any other line in that pamphlet; and I now claim, that should the Court instruct you that the statute is constitutional, still I insist that the words set out in this indictment do not amount to blasphemy.
There is still another point. This statute says: "Whoever shall willfully speak against." Now, in this case, you must find that the defendant "willfully" did so and so -- that is to say, that he made the statements attributed to him knowing that they were not true. If you believe that he was honest in what he said, then this statute does not touch him. Even under this statute, a man may give his honest opinion. Certainly, there is no law that charges a man with "willfully" being honest -- "willfully" telling his real opinion -- "willfully" giving to his fellow men his thought.
Where a man is charged with larceny, the indictment must set out that he took the goods or the property with the intention to steal -- with what the law calls the animus furandi. If he took the goods with the intention to steal, then he is a thief; but if he took the goods believing them to be his own, then he is guilty of no offence. So in this case, whatever was said by the defendant must have been "willfully" said. And I claim that if you believe that what the man said was honestly said, you cannot find him guilty under this statute.
One more point: This statute has been allowed to slumber so long, that no man had the right to awaken it. For more than one hundred years it has slept; and so far as New Jersey is concerned, it has been sound asleep since 1664. For the first time it is dug out of its grave. The breath of life is sought to be breathed into it, to the end that some people may wreak their vengeance on an honest man.
Is there any evidence -- has there been any -- to show that the defendant was not absolutely candid in the expression of his opinions? Is there one particle of evidence tending to show that he is not a perfectly honest and sincere man? Did the prosecution have the courage to attack his reputation? No. The State has simply proved to you that he circulated that pamphlet -- that is all.
It was claimed, among other things, that the defendant circulated this pamphlet among children. There was no such evidence -- not the slightest. The only evidence about schools, or school children, was that when the defendant talked with the bill-poster -- whose business the defendant was interfering with -- he asked him something about the population of the town, and about the schools. But according to the evidence, and as a matter of fact, not a solitary pamphlet was ever given to any child, or to any youth. According to the testimony, the defendant went into two or three stores -- laid the pamphlets on a show case, or threw them upon a desk -- put them upon a stand where papers were sold, and in one instance handed a pamphlet to a man. That is all.
In my judgment, however, there would have been no harm in giving this pamphlet to every citizen of your place.
Again I say, that a law that has been allowed to sleep for all these years -- allowed to sleep by reason of the good sense and by reason of the tolerant spirit of the State of New Jersey, should not be allowed to leap into life because a few are intolerant, or because a few lacked good sense and judgment. This snake should not be warmed into vicious life by the blood of anger.
Probably not a man on this jury agrees with me about the subject of religion. Probably not a member of this jury thinks that I am right in the opinions that I have entertained and have so often expressed. Most of you belong to some church, and I presume that those who do, have the good of what they call Christianity at heart. There may be among you some Methodists. If so, they have read the history of their church, and they know that when it was in the minority, it was persecuted, and they know that they can not read the history of that persecution without becoming indignant. They know that the early Methodists were denounced as heretics, as ranters, as ignorant pretenders.
There are also on this jury, Catholics, and they know that there is a tendency in many parts of this country to persecute a man now because he is a Catholic. They also know that their church has persecuted in times past, whenever and wherever it had the power; and they know that Protestants, when in power, have always persecuted Catholics; and they know, in their hearts, that all persecution, whether in the name of law, or religion, is monstrous, savage, and fiendish.
I presume that each one of you has the good of what you call Christianity at heart. If you have, I beg of you to acquit this man. If you believe Christianity to be a good, it never can do any church any good to put a man in jail for the expression of opinion. Any church that imprisons a man because he has used an argument against its creed, will simply convince the world that it cannot answer the argument.
Christianity will never reap any honor, will never reap any profit, from persecution. It is a poor, cowardly, dastardly way of answering arguments. No gentleman will do it -- no civilized man ever did do it -- no decent human being ever did, or ever will.
I take it for granted that you have a certain regard, a certain affection, for the State in which you live -- that you take a pride in the Commonwealth of New Jersey. If you do, I beg of you to keep the record of your State clean. Allow no verdict to be recorded against the freedom of speech. At present there is not to be found on the records of any inferior court, or on those of the Supreme tribunal -- any case in which a man has been punished for speaking his sentiments. The records have not been stained -- have not been polluted -- with such a verdict.
Keep such a verdict from the Reports of your State -- from the Records of your courts. No jury has yet, in the State of New Jersey, decided that the lips of honest men are not free -- that there is a manacle upon the brain.
For the sake of your State -- for the sake of her reputation throughout the world -- for your own sakes -- and those of your children, and their children yet to be -- say to the world that New Jersey shares in the spirit of this age -- that New Jersey is not a survival of the Dark Ages -- that New Jersey does not still regard the thumbscrew as an instrument of progress -- that New Jersey needs no dungeon to answer the arguments of a free man, and does not send to the penitentiary men who think, and men who speak. Say to the world, that where arguments are without foundation, New Jersey has confidence enough in the brains of her people to feel that such arguments can be refuted by reason.
For the sake of your State, acquit this man. For the sake of something of far more value to this world than New Jersey -- for the sake of something of more importance to mankind than this continent -- for the sake of Human Liberty, for the sake of Free Speech, acquit this man.
What light is to the eyes, what love is to the heart, Liberty is to the soul of man. Without it, there come suffocation, degradation and death.
In the name of Liberty, I implore -- and not only so, but I insist -- that you shall find a verdict in favor of this defendant. Do not do the slightest thing to stay the march of human progress. Do not carry us back, even for a moment, to the darkness of that cruel night that good men hoped had passed away forever.
Liberty is the condition of progress. Without Liberty, there remains only barbarism. Without Liberty, there can be no civilization.
If another man has not the right to think, you have not even the right to think that he thinks wrong. If every man has not the right to think, the people of New Jersey had no right to make a statute, or to adopt a constitution -- no jury has the right to render a verdict, and no court to pass its sentence.
In other words, without liberty of thought, no human being has the right to form a judgment. It is impossible that there should be such a thing as real religion without liberty. Without liberty there can be no such thing as conscience, no such word as justice. All human actions -- all good, all bad -- have for a foundation the idea of human liberty, and without Liberty there can be no vice, and there can be no virtue.
Without Liberty there can be no worship, no blasphemy -- no love, no hatred, no justice, no progress.
Take the word Liberty from human speech and all the other words become poor, withered, meaningless sounds -- but with that word realized -- with that word understood, the world becomes a paradise.
Understand me. I am not blaming the people. I am not blaming the prosecution, or the prosecuting attorney. The officers of the court are simply doing what they feel to be their duty. They did not find the indictment. That was found by the grand jury. The grand jury did not find the indictment of its own motion. Certain people came before the grand jury and made their complaint -- gave their testimony, and upon that testimony, under this statute, the indictment was found.
While I do not blame these people -- they not being on trial -- I do ask you to stand on the side of right.
I cannot conceive of much greater happiness than to discharge a public duty, than to be absolutely true to conscience, true to judgment, no matter what authority may say, no matter what public opinion may demand. A man who stands by the right, against the world, cannot help applauding himself, and saying: "I am an honest man."
I want your verdict -- a verdict born of manhood, of courage; and I want to send a dispatch today to a woman who is lying sick. I wish you to furnish the words of this dispatch -- only two words -- and these two words will fill an anxious heart with joy. They will fill a soul with light. It is a very short message -- only two words -- and I ask you to furnish them: "Not guilty."
You are expected to do this, because I believe you will be true to your consciences, true to your best judgment, true to the best interests of the people of New Jersey, true to the great cause of Liberty.
I sincerely hope that it will never be necessary again, under the flag of the United States -- that flag for which has been shed the bravest and best blood of the world -- under that flag maintained by Washington, by Jefferson, by Franklin and by Lincoln -- under that flag in defense of which New Jersey poured out her best and bravest blood -- I hope it will never be necessary again for a man to stand before a jury and plead for the Liberty of Speech.
NOTE: The jury in this case brought in a verdict of guilty. The Judge imposed a fine of twenty-five dollars and costs amounting in all to seventy-five dollars, which Colonel Ingersoll paid, giving his service free. -- C.P. Farrell.