Professor Andrew Trees, Roosevelt University
Virginia Declaration of Rights
Section 16. 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.
Section sixteen is a precursor for the first amendment protection of the right to freedom of conscience (and uses the term “free exercise,” which Madison would include as well). Mason’s use of “Christian forebearance, love, and charity” shows that the evolution to the more expansive freedom of the First Amendment is not yet complete. There also is no establishment clause. Virginia would not dis-establish the Anglican Church until its 1786 Statute for Religious Freedom. For a fuller discussion of the Virginia Declaration of Rights, see the introductory material.
Section 12. That the freedom of the press is one of the greatest bulwarks of liberty and can never be restrained but by despotic governments.
Section twelve is a precursor for the freedom of the press clause in the First Amendment. This is perhaps the first enactment of a statutory protection of this freedom. For a fuller discussion of the Virginia Declaration of Rights, see the introductory material.