Strict controls of religion in England and Japan, and the Freedom of religion the US constitution guarantees
The histories of both England and Japan tell us that their national securities and independence had conflicted with the religious freedom of their people. The history of US tells us that deciding and acting political issues independently from organized Church or religious institutions is essential to protect the religious freedom.
Gain Political Independence from Religious Authority in England
As a Japanese living in the US, I view that the development of congressional politics in England as the political elites gradually limited the royal and religious authorities and gained own economic and political freedom while sacrificing the religious freedom and many lives of Catholics in their kingdom.
Let me explain in details.
In medieval Europe, Pope claimed the Papal supremacy and exercised extreme political power over nations such that only he could authorize royal crowns. In a modern term, he had the global political power and authority.
France and Spain could directory intervene the politics in Rome because of their geographical proximity to Rome, and protect their domestic political priorities. In these countries, high-rank priests occupied essential government positions, and Royal and Church formed one government body to exercise executive and judicial power based on the Canon law and the royal authority. They often justified their military interventions against their enemies as protectors of the Catholic faith.
However, England as a peripheral European country could not be directory involved in the politics in Rome, and an indirect intervention from the influential Catholic neighbors, Spain and France, through the Church on a complicated domestic issue such as throne succession was inevitable.
What is more, in those days, the Church also ordered people to follow even its very political claims. In the modern democratic society, it is crucial for each Catholic laity to act on political matters independently from the Church, but it was so hard to do so during the medieval age because of the Church order. As a consequence, the government regarded Catholic laities as political members of the Church, and the tide of history swallowed them.
As influenced by the religious reformation in Europe, the ruling aristocrats and upper clergies in Britain speculated that the royal crown should have the sovereign in the kingdom and its sovereignty should also be above the Church in the country.
At that time in Europe, earnings from the (farming) lands owned by Church organizations and profits from more-like a commercial/trading activity was the income of Rome without taxation by the government of that country. So the land owned by Church was the territory of Rome by the taxation point of view, regardless of their locations, and establishing the sovereignty over Church means that the royal government can create a law to tax the profit earned by Church.
Henry VIII of England, who initiated the English Reformation, had been known as a pious Catholic and was granted the title “Defender of the Faith” by Pope Leo X. However, his mind departed from the authority of the Catholic Church when his petition to annul his first marriage was rejected by Pope Clement VII.
It was 1534 that Henry VIII, the political elites, ruling aristocrats, and some upper clergies came to a political consensus that the Church of England would be separated and independent from the Catholic Church. The king became the supreme governor of the Church of England. The British monarchy continues to inherit the position even now. The creation of own church was their answer to gain political independence from Rome.
As a supreme head of the Church of England, Henry VIII disbanded monasteries, priories, convents, and friaries in all England, Wales, and Ireland, and he sold their assets and confiscated their lands for his regular income source. Independence from Rome brought substantial financial benefit to his kingdom.
A little later in Japan, Hideyoshi Toyotomi, the head of the political and military powers, expelled all Catholic priests from Japan because Hideyoshi considered that these priests were vanguards of the Spanish Emperor - most of the priests were Portuguese, and were afraid that the spread of Catholic faith would threat the national security.
Both Hideyoshi and Henry VIII might not want to admit any religious authority over their authorities and did not allow religious bodies to interfere with their civil and political matters.
National Intervention on Catholic Faith Regarded as Foreign Influence
Henry VIII required any person in public or church office to swear that the monarch is the Supreme Governor of the Church of England (Act of Supremacy, 1534). Those who refused were executed as treason.
This oath is not what a pious Catholic can swear. Thomas More, a brilliant humanist, lawyer, High Steward of Oxford and Cambridge, writer of Utopia, and once a councilor of Henry VIII, refused to swear the oath and was executed. John Fisher, a great philosopher, teacher, cardinal, Chancellor of Cambridge, and once a tutor of Prince Henry, afterward Henry VIII, a defender of marriage like John the Baptist, refused the oath, was imprisoned and beheaded as treason.
During the age of Elizabeth I, members of parliament and students at universities were also required to swear the oath, so Catholics were systematically expelled from parliament and higher educations. Supremacy of the Crown Act 1562 automatically made anyone who refused the oath twice a crime of treason.
In response to this situation, Pope Pius V renounced Elizabeth I as a Queen of England and excommunicated her. As the animosity between the Catholic Church and British monarch became intensified. Philip II of Spain, a devoted Catholic of the Empire on which the sun never sets, engaged in the war against England to overthrow the Elizabeth I and to restore a Catholic monarch in England as Pope’s intention (Anglo-Spanish War 1585-1604). The war severely and profoundly made public perception on Catholic in England worse and just helped to expel Catholics from England more thoroughly.
Catholic laities in England were regarded as potential cooperators of the foreign Catholic enemy and as the threat to the national independence. Also in Japan, this hostility and fear toward Catholic laities were what grew in Hideyoshi as he sensed the haughty military power of Spain behind the Catholic priests coming to Japan. Unfortunately, it is also true that some priests in Japan at that time secretly asked the Spanish military to invade Japan. All the consequence was the actual suffering of common Catholic laities in both England and Japan.
After the English Civil War (1642-1651) and Anglo-Spanish War (1654-1660), the series of Test Acts (1661, 1673, and 1678) were legislated in order to exclude Catholic from all aspects of public services and systematically confiscate their assets. Members of public service, military, and university, as well as members of House of Lords (upper house) and House of Commons (lower house), were all required to deny transubstantiation, veneration of Mary, mother of Jesus, the authority of Pope, invocation of stains, and the sacrament of Mass.
I, (Name), abhor, detest, and abjure the authority of the Pope, as well in regard of the Church in general, as in regard to myself in particular. I condemn and anathematize the tenet that any reward is due to good works. I firmly believe and avow that no reverence is due to the Virgin Mary, or to any other saint in heaven and that no petition or adoration can be addressed to them without idolatry. I assert that no worship or reverence is due to the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, or to the elements of bread and wine after consecration, by whomever that consecration may be made. I believe there is no purgatory, but that it is a popish invention; so is also the tenet that the Pope can grant indulgences. I also firmly believe that neither the Pope, nor any other priest can remit sins, as the papists rave.
I wonder what kind of faith of the Church of England had then. Those who denied this oath lost two-thirds of their assets, and the second refusal led them to the confiscation of two-thirds of their remaining assets. Therefore, this law made poor Catholics much poorer and provided financial opportunity with establishments of non-Catholics like the Church of England through utilization of the confiscated assets.
During the same period in Japan, Shoguns prohibited Catholic (and all Christian) faith and forced everyone Fumie (踏み絵, stepping on a likeness of Jesus or Mary) in order to identify hidden Catholics, and those who denied Fumie were tortured until death or abandoning the faith.
Establishment of the Parliament Sovereignty and Suppression of the Freedom of Faith
In 1688, England’s political and religious leaders successfully expelled their King James II, a Catholic, by supporting William III, Stadtholder of Holland and a Protestant, to invade England and to be crowned as a King of England instead. This event is called the Glorious Revolution. Then, the new King, William III accepted Parliament's Declaration of Rights, known as Bill of Rights 1689.
Before the Glorious Revolution, James II, the king at that time, proclaimed Declaration of Indulgence or “Declaration for Liberty of Conscience” that granted broad religious freedom of various Christian denominations, Catholic and Protestant, and suspended the religious tests for those who worked at a public office. However, clergies of the Church of England as obsessed by the various vested interests were those who most opposed to this religious freedom. It was not a surprising reaction because they were the most benefited socially and financially from persecuting the opponents and confiscating assets from those opponents. The freedom of religion would end their exclusive privilege. Therefore, these clergies plotted the revolution with the parliament members and threw away their supreme governor following their doctrine.
From a Japanese point of view, such privileges of the British parliament were developed in 2 steps. First, the political elites in England utilized the authority of its King to deny the highest authority of religion (Pope). Then, when clergies with temporal incentives have lost the saltiness, the political elites finally took away the political authority of King so that they could establish their political privileges without interference from the clergies.
After the glorious revolution, William III brought back the Oath of Supremacy to legitimize Catholic discrimination.
Under the reign of William III, Popery Act was enacted in 1700. It encouraged informant on a priest who was secretly practicing Catholic faith and rewarded £100 (it would be worth about $18,000~$120,000 today. It is hard to estimate, but £100 was big money) after the priest’s conviction. Tokugawa shogunate in Japan also used the monetary reward for snitching on a hidden Catholic during the same era.
The law was also designed in England to impoverish Catholic systematically - any person over eighteen and a half was required to swear Oaths of Supremacy and Allegiance and declaration against Pope. Those who rejected the oaths were unable to inherit or purchase any lands, and any lands devised to them were passed to the next of kin who happened to be a Protestant.
All of these measures are considered as
“a machine of wise and elaborate contrivance, as well fitted for the oppression, impoverishment, and degradation of a people, and the debasement in them of human nature itself, as ever proceeded from the perverted ingenuity of man."
by Edmund Burke, a conservative Irish statesman of Whig Party. The percentage of the Catholic population in England is estimated to have declined from 4% to 1% after the glorious revolution and until the early 19th century.
The English Bill of Rights guaranteed the freedom of speech in Parliament and established the governance by Parliament, but neglected the fundamental human rights of Catholic. When people overly glorified the revolution, I could not help but see it as a conceit among the inner circle because their success was majorly based on the suffering of Catholics in England.
Freedom of Religion was Guaranteed by the Constitution of the United States of America
It is the United States of America that first guaranteed the freedom of religion by the constitution as it gained independence from England. The First Amendment of the US Constitution declared
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 the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
The Article of Six states
The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the Members of the several State Legislatures, and all executive and judicial Officers, both of the United States and of the several States, shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.
It is also thrilling to find a Catholic who signed the Declaration of Independence, Charles Carroll of Carrollton. He campaigned for pro-independence, writing articles on the Maryland newspaper by himself with the nickname “First Citizen” and became an influential opinion leader for the independence. He was also elected as a representative of Maryland and served in the revolutionary government during the American War of Independence.
These aforementioned are all Irish-Americans while the Catholic faith was persecuted in Ireland by the government. The faith survived and thrived within them in the United States.
They became the members of the founding fathers and established the freedom of religion, which is a universal value among the democratic societies.
A critical learning from this history is that these founding fathers acted based on their faiths and conscience, but they did not follow the political opinions of the Church. Independent from the politics of the Church, they became the fathers who built the country and established the freedom of religion.
If they would have followed political views of Catholic priests, Church, or even Pope, they could have never become the founding fathers.
Thomas Jefferson said the wall of separation between church and state is the foundation of the US constitution. A wall of separation between church and individual is the foundation of the wall between Church and stats. We can protect the religious freedom when we act independently from religious authority and Church.
Reluctantly Following the Religious Freedom in England
The British accepted the independence of the United States by the Paris treaty in 1783.
Catholic was no longer the crucial national security issue after the French revolution in 1799, and the radical revolutionary government and Napoleon became the threat to England. In order to face the international conflicts and the rise of the United States, it became necessary for the British government to support the Catholics in Ireland and thus the British government gradually relaxed the Penal Laws.
Daniel O'Connell, a lawyer and a fighter of Ireland, established the Catholic Board in 1811 and Catholic Association in 1823, as he campaigned for the Catholic emancipation. The Association was funded by membership dues of one penny per month. Evidently, the British government tried to crash the association and put the members liable to prosecution. However, O'Connell stood in a by-election to the British House of Commons in 1828. He won the election. When he refused the “Oath of Supremacy”, the political leaders of Britain could not stand but admitted O'Connell because they were afraid that a massive rebellion of Irish people might arise if they refused O'Connell. England could not face any civil war anymore. Eventually, the parliament passed the Roman Catholic Relief Act 1829 and restored fundamental civil rights, allowing Catholic for public offices without the oath.
Yet, until 1871, Catholics were still not allowed to study at the universities in England without the oath of denying the Transubstantiation. Roman Catholic Relief Act of 1926 finally made admittance to Catholic orders and public processing legal.
As for relevance to Japan, Meiji government overturned Tokugawa Shogunate in 1868, but they kept the policy of banning Catholic and indeed still continued to persecute Japanese Catholics who confessed their faith. When representatives of the Japanese government visited England in 1872, England government criticized them for Japan’s policy of banning Catholic, stating that a civilized nation should guarantee religious freedom. It is ironic that England government still restricted the Catholic faith at that time, so they confessed that they were not a civilized nation either.
Surprisingly, it was 1998 when a British domestic law, the Human Rights Acts, finally guaranteed freedom of religion, and just the very recent 2006 and 2010 Equality Acts ban discrimination based on religion. Now, 26 seats of the House of Lords of the United Kingdom are dedicated to senior bishops of the Church of England as the representatives of the established church. There are no dedicated seats for the Church of Scotland, Presbyterian, and the Anglican churches in Wales and Northern Ireland, or any other churches. So my understanding, the freedom of religion in England is permitted by the Church of England and the government, but it is not based on the principle of the individual independence - the wall between church and individual, and the wall between church and state.
This situation is somewhat similar to the freedom of religion in Japan. The current Japanese constitution guarantees the freedom of religion, but the constitution was drafted by U.S. civil servants of US-led Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers (SCAP) right after the WWII.
Life in the United States of America as a Japanese Catholic
The bias to Catholics was inherited from England to the US. I was told that the prejudice against Catholics became weaker after John F. Kennedy was elected as the 35th president of the United States. He was also an Irish-American and a Catholic. JFK addressed the wall between church and individual in his Address to the Greater Houston Ministerial Association on September 12th, 1960, during his presidential election campaign.
I believe in an America that is officially neither Catholic, Protestant nor Jewish—where no public official either requests or accepts instructions on public policy from the Pope, the National Council of Churches or any other ecclesiastical source—where no religious body seeks to impose its will directly or indirectly upon the general populace or the public acts of its officials—and where religious liberty is so indivisible that an act against one church is treated as an act against all [...]
I believe in an America where religious intolerance will someday end—where all men and all churches are treated as equal—where every man has the same right to attend or not attend the church of his choice—where there is no Catholic vote, no anti-Catholic vote, no bloc voting of any kind—and where Catholics, Protestants and Jews, at both the lay and pastoral level, will refrain from those attitudes of disdain and division which have so often marred their works in the past, and promote instead the American ideal of brotherhood. [...]
I would not look with favor upon a President working to subvert the first amendment's guarantees of religious liberty. Nor would our system of checks and balances permit him to do so—and neither do I look with favor upon those who would work to subvert Article VI of the Constitution by requiring a religious test—even by indirection—for it. If they disagree with that safeguard they should be out openly working to repeal it. [...]
I am the Democratic Party's candidate for President who happens also to be a Catholic. I do not speak for my church on public matters—and the church does not speak for me.
Whatever issue may come before me as President—on birth control, divorce, censorship, gambling or any other subject—I will make my decision in accordance with these views, in accordance with what my conscience tells me to be the national interest, and without regard to outside religious pressures or dictates. And no power or threat of punishment could cause me to decide otherwise. [...]
I have lived in the US since 2001. As a Japanese Catholic have never experienced discrimination against my faith here in this country.