Elder John Leland (1754-1841) was a Virginian Baptist theologian & pastor. He advocated for protections of religious liberty in the fledgling American republic, which eventually resulted in the Bill of Rights being added to the United States Constitution. His fight to separate Church from State was not a given like we’d expect today. This was because the popular belief of his day was that since morality was necessary for good self-governance, it was only proper for government to establish a State religion. His Biblical prophetic witness to the danger of a national church and a “gospel church” makes him by consequence, an American patriot.
The fondness of magistrates to foster Christianity, has done it more harm than all the persecutions ever did. Persecution, like a lion, tears the saints to death, but leaves Christianity pure: state establishment of religion, like a bear, hugs the saints, but corrupts Christianity, and reduces it to a level with state policy.The Government of Christ a Christocracy (1804)
Government should protect every man in thinking and speaking freely, and see that one does not abuse another. The liberty that I contend for, is more than toleration. The very idea of toleration is despicable; it supposes that some have a pre-eminence above the rest, to grant indulgence; whereas all should be equally free, Jews, Turks, Pagans and Christians.The Virginia Chronicle (1790)
Whenever men fly to the law or sword to protect their system of religion, and force it upon others, it is evident that they have something in their system that will not bear the light, and stand upon the basis of truth.The Rights of Conscious Inalienable (1791)
A national church takes in the whole nation, and no more; whereas, the Gospel Church, takes in no nation, but those who fear God, and work righteousness in every nation. The notion of a Christian commonwealth, should be exploded forever.Virginia Chronicle (1790)
Government has no more to do with the religions opinions of men, than it has with the principles of mathematics. Let every man speak freely without fear, maintain the principles that he believes, worship according to his own faith, either one God, three Gods, no God, or twenty Gods; and let government protect him in so doing, i.e., see that he meets with no personal abuse, or loss of property, from his religious opinions.The Rights of Conscious Inalienable (1791)