How are Prohibition Laws Related to Religious Liberty?

The link below is to a PDF of a letter written several decades ago by Francis D. Nichol, prominent Adventist leader and editor of the Review & Herald.

Here’s an excerpt from his concluding remarks:

“There was a time in the history of our country when various of the colonists, especially the Puritans, took the Bible as the basis for their code of laws.  Such a procedure at first blush looks like a high and holy one to follow, but all of us know the sad results in religious intolerance that grew out of that program.  As Adventists we have held up that program of the Puritans as an example of what ought not to be done.  And as a denomination we have taken the position that the only escape from the dangers of religious intolerance that grow out of such a course as was followed by the Puritans, is to apply Bible commands exclusively to the hearts and the free will of men and to enact only such civil statutes as can be justified on civil grounds.

It would be very much easier for me in many ways, at least it would make it possible for me to cooperate much more largely with other religious groups, if I blurred over the distinctions that I have endeavored to set forth in this letter.  But I do not feel I can do this, except at the peril of sacrificing some very primary conceptions as to religious liberty.

On the other hand, I am not willing to be viewed as behind even the most ardent Christian brother in my vigorous employment of Scriptural injunctions and commands on the matter of liquor drinking, when appealing to men’s hearts to refrain from drink of their own free will.  And, indeed, I believe we ought to do more of this.  Such work may properly parallel our appeal on civil grounds for prohibitory laws against liquor.  My contention is this: Although these two lines of activity may properly be carried on side by side, they ought never to be fused together so that we being to declare that because the Bible says thus and so, therefore we ought to have a civil statute forcing men by pains and penalties to order their lives accordingly.”

Prohibition & Religious Liberty Nichol

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