§ Mr. W. Smith
presented a Petition from the there undersigned Protestant dissenting ministers of the three denominations residing in and about the 735 cities of London and Westminster; setting forth,
"That the petitioners conceiving the right of worshipping God according to the dictates of their own consciences to be derived from the Author of their being, and confirmed by the Founder of their Christian faith, and therefore not to be subject to the controul of human authority, cannot but regard with deep concern those statutes which restrain and limit the exercise of this right, and impose conditions and penalties that seem to them as unjust in their principle as they are injurious to the vital interests of true religion; and that the petitioners consider those statutes as originally designed to guard against evils which no longer exist, and as expressive of sentiments with regard to the nature and extent of religious liberty, which no longer prevail, at a period when the subjects of the British empire, however they may differ with regard to the principles of their religion and their mode of professing it, concur in a cordial attachment to the family on the throne; and when enlightened views of religious liberty, and a corresponding liberality of spirit, have been diffused among religious professors of all denominations; and that the petitioners, expressing their lively gratitude for the concessions made to their religious rights, in the course of the present reign, earnestly but respectfully pray, that every remaining penal statute, which extends its operation to the province of religion, may be repealed; and that whilst they conduct themselves as loyal, obedient, and peaceable subjects, to the state, they, in common with all their fellow citizens, may be put in possession of complete religious freedom, and allowed to worship their Maker, and maintain their Christian profession according to their own views, and their incumbent duty, without being subjected, under the sanction of law, to any penalties or disabilities, in consequence of their dissent from the Established Church; and that the petitioners, confiding in the wisdom and justice of the House, pray that their cause may be taken into consideration, and the relief granted to them for which they supplicate."
§ Mr. W. Smith
also presented a Petition from the there undersigned Protestant Dissenters, of the three denominations residing in and near the cities of London and Westminster: setting forth,
736 "That the petitioners esteem the capacity for religious worship as the highest distinction of their nature, and regard the practice of it as a sacred duty enjoined by Divine authority, but. which can be acceptable in the individual only when performed with sincerity, and agreeably to the dictates of conscience; that they are hereby inevitably led to deprecate the interference of the civil magistrate in religious concerns, and to consider the unfettered exorcise of private judgment in all matters thereto belonging as a right invaluable and unalienable, and which cannot be innocently surrendered to the pretensions of any human authority; and that, under these impressions, the petitioners are sincerely grateful for the important and progressive improvement of their condition in these points during the course of the present reign, and especially for the large concessions so graciously made in the last parliament; but there are some laws yet remaining upon our statute book, which they cannot but contemplate as inconsistent with the free exercise of religious worship, and which, if ever they deserved to be considered as proper guards against the dangers of any former periods, may now, even on their own principle, be safely abrogated, when those dangers have so long ceased to exist; and that the petitioners therefore cannot but indulge the hope, that the same wise and liberal spirit, the prevalence of which has already effected so much in their favour, will break every remaining bond, and abolish every shackle on the entire freedom of religious profession, and that they, in common with all their fellow subjects of every persuasion, may, while they conduct themselves as peaceable and obedient subjects, be permitted to reap the legitimate fruits of upright and loyal conduct in the allowance to maintain their Christian profession according to their own views of faith and duty, without being made liable to any legal pains, penalties, or disabilities, in consequence of their dissent from the Established Church."
§ On presenting the Petition from the Dissenting Ministers, Mr. Smith said he understood it was agreed to without opposition.
§ Mr. Butterworth
would not have made any observation on the present occasion, had not the hon. gentleman stated, that the unanimous opinion of the Dissenting Ministers was in favour of presenting this Petition. During the last session of parliament, 737 a proposition was made for presenting a petition, word for word with that which the hon. gentleman had now brought up. In favour of the proposition there were 31 ministers, against it 25, and 12 were neuter; so that, in fact, a majority of the body did not coincide in its propriety. It was not, however, deemed expedient for those who were opposed to the Petition, and who were a minority, to take any steps on the occasion.
§ Mr. W. Smith
said, that of the private transactions of the body, he did not profess to know much; but he would again aver, that the Petition was brought to him yesterday, by a deputation from the body of whom he spoke; that the meeting was called with all due, sufficient and formal notice; and that all who attended it signed the Petition. Even the names of some of those who disagreed (not from any dislike to the sentiments of the Petition, but from other circumstances) last year, were to be found amongst the signatures to the Petition which he now presented, and to which not the slightest opposition was manifested.
§ Mr. Butterworth
observed, that some of the persons who were present at the meeting did oppose the Petition; but they did not wish to come to a vote on it.
The Petition were ordered to lie on, the table.