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general issue, in any action brought for the recovery of
resentatives, in General Assembly convened,
General rights That all societies and congregations, instituted for public and powers of religious worship, which have been incorporated by law,
societies for religious worship.
in local limits, or otherwise, or formed by voluntary association, shall hold, possess and enjoy, all real and personal property, all public buildings and funds belonging to
such societies and congregations, appropriated to the use and support of public worship ; and shall have power to take care of, manage and apply the same to such purpose; and shall be capable hereafter to receive any grants or donations, and, by voluntary agreement, to establish funds for the same object.(1)
(1) The object of our ancestors in emigrating to this country, was to enjoy their religion, not only free from persecution, but without interruption from Christians of different sentiments. They were desirous of maintaining a uniformity of doctrine and of worship. The true principles of reliions liberty were not then known in any hristian country, and toleration was notthe virtue of that age. Accordingly, on their arrival, they formed an ecclesiastical constitution; they passed a statute, that no persons should embody themselves into church estate, without consent of the general court, and approbation of neighboring churches; that no ministry, or church administration, should be entertained or attended, distinct and separate from, and in opposition to, that by the approved minister of the place, on penalty of five pounds:
and that every person should attend public worship, on the Lord's day, and days of fasting and thanksgiving, on penalty of five shillings; and to guard against the supremacy of the church over the state, it was declared, that the civil authority had power and liberty to see the peace, ordinances, and rules of Christ's church, observed in every church, according to his word, and to deal with any church-member in a way of civil justice, notwithstanding any church relation, office, or interest, so it be done in a civil, and not in an ecclesiastical way; and that a church censure should not degrade or depose any man from any civil office or authority. Laws were made to compel each town or society, by taxation, to support the ministry, and in default thereof, the county courts were ordered to see it done, and every inhabitant
sect. 2. Whenever any person shall desire to join How any per
any religious society or congregation, which has been,
was compellable to pay taxes for the support of the approved minister. A provision, however, is made, where there is a difference of opinion with regard to church government, and it is declared, that though the congregational churches have been, in general, approved in profession and practice, yet as sundry persons of piety and worth among them, were otherwise persuaded, such persons, being approved of according to law, as orthodox, and sound in the fundamentals of religion, should have allowance in their persuasion and profession in church way, without disturbance.
The only statute against heretics, ap
pears in the revision of 1672, whereby it is enacted, that no person shall entertain any Quaker, Ranter, Adamite, or other notorious heretic, upon penalty of five pounds; and that towns who suffered their entertanument, should be subjected to a penalty of five pounds per week; that the governor, deputy-governor, or assistants, should have power to send them out of the colony, or commit them to prison; that no person should hold any unnecessary discourse with them, on penalty of twenty shillings: or keep their books, on penalty of ten shillings; that their books should be seized, and delivered to some court, who should suppress them; and if any master of a vessel should land such heretics in the colony, he was compellable to transport them out of the state, on penalty of twenty pounds. This statute does not appear in the revision of 1730. No creed, or form of church government, was adopted until 1708; and then the consession of faith, heads of agreement, and regulations in the administration of church discipline, as consented to by the elders and messengers of the churches, convened at Saybrook, were approved of; and all the churches, thus united in doctrine, worship and discipline, were declared to be established by law. Though this statute was omitted in the revision of 1784, yet the creed and form of church government thereby established, have ever been recognized and practised upon, by the congregations in the located societies. in 1708, an act of toleration was passed, copied from the celebrated toleration act of William and Mary, declaring, that all persons who should conform to that act, should have liberty of worshipping God, in a way separate from that established by law; but should not be excused from paying taxes to the approved ministers of the churches, established by law. Though there were some contests in the
son may becoine a mein
established churches, yet there appeared to be no danger of an innovation till the appearance of the Baptists, and some other denominations; and in 1723, a statute was passed, reciting, that some persons had formed themselves into separate meetings, in private houses, for religious worship, on the Lord's day, and that others, without ordination, had administered the sacrament of baptism, and thereupon enacting, that all persons who should neglect the public worship of God, on the Lord's day, in some lawful congregation, and form themselves into separate companies, in private houses, should forfeit twenty shillings, and that any person, not being a lawful minister, who should administer the sacraments, should incur a penalty of ten pounds, or be whipped not exceeding thirty lashes. In 1727, the members of the church of England made an application to the legislature, to be exempted from paying taxes for the support of the ministry of any other denomination, and for the privilege of taxing themselves, to support their own ministry; and an act was passed, directing that all persons, within the limits of a parish, belonging to the church of England, and to the churches established by law, should be taxed by the same rule, and in the same proportion, for the support of the ministry, in such parish; and where there was a society of the church of England, according to the canons of that church, so near to any person who had declared himself to be of that church, that he could conveniently, and did ordinarily, attend public worship there, then the collector of the tax, on levying the same, should pay it to that minister of the church of England, on which such person attended, who should have power to receive and recover the same ; and when the taxes so collected, should be insufficient to support the minister of the church of England, the members of the society were vested with the power of taxing themselves, and they were also exempted from paying taxes for building or repairing the meeting-houses of the established churches. The principle of exempting dissenters from taxes to support the established churches, having been admitted in one case, it became necessary to extend it to others. Accordingly, in 1729, this exemption was extended to Quakers and Baptists, who lived so near to any society of their denomination, that they could and did attend public worship therein, on their producing a certificate from such society, that they had joined, and belonged to it. gious society.
ber of a reli- or shall be, incorporated by law, or has been, or shall
In the year 1742, itinerant preachers, and lay exhorters, having excited an alarm for the ecclesiastical constitution itself, the legislature passed an act to prohibit any ordained or licenced minister, to preach and exhort, in any society, not under his care, without the invitation of the settled minister, and major part of the church and society, on pain of being excluded from the benefit of the law for the support of the ministry; also, to prohibit any person, not a settled or ordained minister, from going into any parish to teach and exhort the people, without the invitation of the settled minister, and the major part of the church and congregation, on penalty of being bound to his good behavior; and there was a further clause, that if any foreigner, whether licenced to preach or not, should preach, teach, or publicly exhort, in any town or society, without the invitation of the settled minister, and the major part of the church of such town and society, or if there were no settled minister, then at the call of the church and inhabitants of such society, he should be sent, as a vagrant, by warrant, from constable to constable, out of the bounds of the colony. This act not answering the intended effect, the legislature, in May, 1743, repealed the act of toleration, passed in 1708; at the same time, liberty was given to sober dissenters, to apply to the assembly for relief; and in October following, an act was passed, directing that if any foreigner or stranger should, at any time, return into the colony, after he had been, by authority, transported out of it, and should teach, preach, or exhort, in any town or society, it should be the duty of any magistrate, who should have information of it, to cause such person to be apprehended and brought before him, who could bind him, in the penal sum of one hundred pounds, to his peaceable and good behavior, and not to offend again in like manner. But the ferment soon subsided, and in the revision of 1750, these statutes do not appear. At this time, the denial of the being of a God, the doctrine of the Trinity, and the divine authority of the scriptures, was made punishable, for the first offence, by disability to hold any office, and for the second offence, by the additional disability to sue, to be a guardian, executor or administrator. This statute was copied from one passed in the reign of William and Mary. There never was a conviction under it. Atheism and Deism were never avowed. Unitarians have been allowed to promulgate their
be, formed, by voluntary association, he may lodge with the clerk of the same, or if there be no clerk, with any other officer thereof, a written declaration, subscribed by himself, expressing his desire and intention of becoming a member of such society or congregation, and thereupon he shall become a member thereof, entitled to all the privileges, and liable to all the duties of a member, unless a majority shall, at their next lawful meeting, manifest their dissent thereto.
opinions with impunity. This statute has been superseded by the constitution. In the revision of 1784, more liberal principles of toleration were adopted. Dissenters, of all denominations, were exempted from the payment of taxes to the support of the ministry, in the located societies, where they had formed distinct churches or congregations, in a way agreeable to their consciences, and ordinarily attended public worship therein, and contributed their due proportion to the support thereof, and produced a certificate from such church or congregation, signed, by their order, by the minister, or other of.
ficer, and lodged the same with the clerk
of the located society wherein such person dwelt. Some disputes having arisen respecting the form and validity of certificates, and a jealousy existing that an undue advantage was taken of the law, an act was passed in May, 1791, directing that certificates, to be valid, must be approved of by a justice of the peace.
This law excited general disapprobation, and in October, 1791, an act was passed, authorizing dissenters to make certificates, in their own names, and lodge them with the clerk of the society, in the fimits of which they lived, which should exempt them from taxes, so long as they ordinarily attended public worship, in the society to which they joined; and dissenting societies were vested with a power to tax themselves to support ministers, and build and repair meeting-houses. This was, in effect, placing all denominations on the same footing; for after this, there was no attempt to tax those who had lodged certificates, under any circumstances. Yet there was a nominal distinction, by which one denomination was obliged to 1. dge certificates with the other; but all distinction is now done away, by the constitution; the crime of heresy is unknown to our law ; all denominations of christians are precisely on the same footing ; the support of the ministers of religion depends on the consent and voluntary contribution of the people; and this statute is intended merely to give them the power of providing for its support, in such manner as they may think proper. Thus, the people of this state, in less than two centuries, have passed from a religious establishment, through various changes, to perfect freedom; and it may be added, that these changes have not broken up any of the located societies, but public worship continues to be duly attended in them all.
sect. 3. The members of the several religious societies and congregations, may annually meet, some time in the month .# December, or at any other time they shall judge convenient, at the usual place of holding meetings, or at such place as they shall establish, upon warning and notice given, at least five days before such meeting, by the committee of the society or congregation, or if there be no committee, by the clerk, and if there be no clerk, by a warrant from a justice of the peace, upon application of five or more members of the society or congregation.
sect. 4. And the members of such societies and congregations, being lawfully assembled, shall have power, at their annual meetings, to appoint a clerk, who shall take the oath provided by law, and shall make entries of all the votes and proceedings of the society or congregation, a copy of which, attested by him, shall be legal evidence in all courts; and he shall continue in . till another be chosen and sworn in his room; also, to appoint three or more of their members to be a committee, to order the affairs of the society, for the year ensuing, who shall adjust and settle all the claims on the society or congregation, and draw orders on the treasurer for the payment of the same ; and to appoint a treasurer, who shall receive all the money belonging to the society or congregation, and pay over the same to the order of the society or congregation, and render his account therefor, when required.
sect. 5. The members of religious societies and congregations, shall have power to hold meetings, when their concerns render it necessary, and may adjourn the same from time to time; and in their lawful meetings, shall have power, by a major vote, to settle ministers, according to the usage of the denomination of christians to which they belong; to repair their meeting-houses; to make such regulations for the support of religious worship as they may think proper; to establish the times and places of holding their meetings, and the mode of warning them; and to appoint committees, or agents, to carry into effect the votes and orders of the society or congregation, as may be necessary.
Notice, how given.
Their duties and powers.
Powers of religious societies in lawful meetings.
How place of
erecting meeting-house shall be established.
Power of taxation.
Committee to make out rate-bill.
Collection of tax.
Distress against negligent collectors.
Right of voting.
sect. 6. Any society or congregation may, by a vote of two thirds of the members present, agree to build a new meeting-house, and to establish the place where it shall be erected; or, if they judge it expedient, may apply to the county court in the county where such society or congregation is situated, to establish the place, and such county court, after hearing all parties concerned, may appoint and fix the place where such meeting-house shall be erected; and it shall not then be lawful to erect it in any other place.
sect. 7. All societies and congregations of christians may, by a major vote of the members present, in a lawful meeting, lay a tax on the members of such society only, to build and repair meeting-houses, to provide for the annual support of the gospel ministry, and to defray any other expense necessarily incurred in the proper business of such society or congregation; and to appoint a collector or collectors, to collect the same ; and every collector. who shall refuse to serve, shall forfeit and pay the sum of five dollars to the treasury of the society or congregation, to be recovered by action brought in the name of the treasurer. And it shall be the duty of the committee of such society or congregation, to make out a rate-bill against the members, containing the proportion of tax for each member to pay, according to the assessment list of the state, completed next previously to the laying of the tax, and shall apply to a justice of the peace in the town or county for a warrant, directed to the collector or collectors, appointed to collect such tax, authorizing and requiring him or them to levy and collect the same; which warrant such justice of the peace is empowered and required to grant. And it shall be the duty of such collector or collectors, to collect such tax, and pay over the same to the treasurer of the society or congregation; and if he or they shall fail or neglect to collect it, by the time appointed, then the committee of the society or congregation, shall take out a distress, signed by a justice of the peace, who is hereby empowered to grant the same, against such negligent collector or collectors, directed to the sheriff of the county, or constable of the town, commanding him to collect such part of the tax as remains due and unpaid from said collector or collectors, and to pay it over to the treasurer of such society or congregation.
sect. 8. The lawful members of each society or congregation, of the age of twenty-one years, shall have a right to vote in the meetings of the same ; and if any person, not a member of the society or congregation, shall intermeddle or vote in any meeting thereof, he shall