John Smyth (Founder of FBC, in the literal sense.)
“That the magistrate is not by virtue of his office to meddle with religion, or matters of conscience, to force to compel men to this or that form of religion, or doctrine: but to leave Christian religion free, to every man’s conscience, and to handle only civil transgressions (Rom xiii), injuries and wrongs of man against man, in murder, adultery, theft, etc., for Christ only is the king and lawgiver of the church and conscience (James iv. 12).” -Article 84 from Smyth’s Confession of Faith, 1612
Thomas Helwys (Co-worker of Smyth, and founder of FBC in England.)
“And we bow ourselves to the earth… beseeching the King to judge righteous judgement herein, whether there be so unjust a thing, and of so great cruel tyranny, under the sun, as to force men’s consciences in their religion to God, seeing that if they err, they must pay the price of their transgression with the loss of their souls. Oh let the King judge, is it not most equal that men should choose their religion themselves seeing they only must stand themselves before the judgement seat of God to answer for themselves, when it shall be no cause for them to say, we were commanded or compelled to be of this religion, by the King, or by them that had authority from him…” -from The Ministry of Iniquity, 1612
Leonard Busher (Author of the first Baptist treatise solely devoted to religious liberty.)
“Seeing, then, the one true religion of the gospel is thus gotten, and thus defended and maintained—namely, by the word preached only; let it please your majesty and parliament to be entreated to revoke and repeal those antichristian, Romish, and cruel laws, that force all in our land, both prince and people, to receive that religion wherein the king or queen were born, or that which is established by the law of man…” -from Religion’s Peace: or A Plea for Liberty of Conscience, 1614
“I read that a bishop of Rome would have constrained a Turkish emperor to the Christian faith, unto whom the emperor answered, ‘I believe that Christ was an excellent prophet, but he did never, so far as I understand, command that men should, with the power of weapons, be constrained to believe his law; and I verily also do force no man to believe Mahomet’s law.’ Also I read that Jews, Christians, and Turks, are tolerated in Constantinople, and yet are peaceable, though so contrary the one to the other.
If this be so, how much more ought Christians not to force one another to religion? And how much more ought Christians to tolerate Christians, when as the Turks do tolerate them? Shall we be less merciful than the Turks? Or shall we learn the Turks to persecute Christians?...” -from Religion’s Peace: or A Plea for Liberty of Conscience, 1614
John Murton (Successor to Thomas Helwys)
“…wherein is manifestly proved by the law of God, the law of our land, and his Majesty’s own diverse testimonies, that no man ought to be persecuted for his religion, be it true or false…” from the opening of Persecution for Religion Judged and Condemned, 1662
Barber was a Baptist preacher in England in the 1600s. He was imprisoned for denying the tithe and infant baptism. From prison, he wrote a scriptural defense of religious liberty, the full text of which is available here.
An Anglican Priest who converted when he realized neither he nor any of his colleagues had an answer to Baptist arguments. He wrote The Storming of the Antichrist to instigate a thorough reformation, as he saw that the Reformation was inadequate and incomplete. In it he gives 29 arguments for freedom of conscience. He then examines 26 arguments for state-controlled religion and finds none with merit.
The Act of Toleration 1689
A groundbreaking act in the move towards religions freedom, not as fully realized as we see today after the founding of the United States, but a first, considerable step. H. Leon McBeth, in his history, The Baptist Heritage says,
“No group [other than Baptists in England] can claim more credit for the Act of Toleration.”Roger Williams (Organized the FBC in America)
Williams exposed the fact that, those who had fled religious persecution to come to the Americas were just as capable of that persecution. In fact, it seems that they were far less interested in freedom of conscience and more concerned with having their way over any other. Williams fled and ultimately founded Rhode Island as a place where liberty of conscience would be the norm. He was only Baptist for a time, but he also wrote one of the most important books on the subject of religious liberty, The Bloudy Tennent of Persecution, 1644. Some think it directly influence Jefferson. It is readily available online. Here is a bit of the opening:
“First. That the blood of so many hundred thousand souls of protestants and papists, spilt in the wars of present and former ages, for their respective consciences, is not required nor accepted by Jesus Christ the Prince of Peace.
Secondly. Pregnant scriptures and arguments are throughout the work proposed against the doctrine of persecution for cause of conscience.
Thirdly. Satisfactory answers are given to scriptures and objections produced by Mr. Calvin, Beza, Mr. Cotton, and the ministers of the New English churches, and others former and later, tending to prove the doctrine of persecution for cause of conscience.
Fourthly. The doctrine of persecution for cause of conscience, is proved guilty of all the blood of the souls crying for vengeance under the altar.
Fifthly. All civil states, with their officers of justice, in their respective constitutions and administrations, are proved essentially civil, and therefore not judges, governors, or defenders of the spiritual, or Christian, state and worship.
Sixthly. It is the will and command of God that, since the coining of his Son the Lord Jesus, a permission of the most Paganish, Jewish, Turkish, or anti-Christian consciences and worships be granted to all men in all nations, and countries: and they are only to be fought against with that sword which is only, in soul matters, able to conquer: to wit, the sword of God's Spirit, the word of God.”
On and on it goes. Consider Obadiah Holmes, Isaac Backus, and John Leland, David Benedict, and even the Bill of Rights of the United States Constitution. Again McBeth writes:
“Historians generally agree that Baptists were included among the “great number of our constituents” [who, according to Madison, were clamoring for the amendments that would make up the BOR] and that the “one point” on which they desired further guarantees involved religious liberty.”-The Baptist Heritage, 1987
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
We can thank Baptists for those freedoms, and if we want to continue to enjoy them, we need to respect everyone’s use of them.