August 14, 1670. (OK, so technically this is last week. It's within the last seven days, so I say it qualifies. Besides, it's my blog. ;-) )
On this day in London, England, two Quakers were arrested for preaching in public. One was a man named William Meade. The other was a young man who would become famous for his accomplishments in an entirely different continent -- William Penn.
When they were brought to trail, Penn demanded to hear the law that they were charged with breaking. He was told they were being tried under Common Law. He demanded once again to hear the law that he and Meade had broken, but the court refused. penn refused to enter a plea. As long as he didn't know what he was being charged with, he would not enter any plea. He was finally taken from the courtroom under protest, crying that what was being done to him could be done to anyone in England.
Meade echoed Penn's arguements, and he was dragged away as well. The jury was told to find both defendants guilty of preaching to the people and dreating a disturbance around them in public -- what we would now call disorderly conduct. The jury, perhaps inspired by the defendents' actions, found them guilty of preaching only. They were locked away with only bread and water, in an effort to get them to change their verdict, but they did not. Finally, the jury was arrested and thrown in jail. Penn and Meade were released. England's highest court ruled that the jury should not have been tampered with, and the jurors were set free.
Christians today are faced at times with opposition in the form of people who think they know the law. I'm reminded of a student that my wife taught in Georgia who was told that she couldn't read her Bible during free reading time -- by her English teacher. Her parents told her to keep her Bible at home; they didn't want to cause a fuss. My wife and I told her that we'd back her up if she wanted to go after the school -- I knew that the ACLJ would have loved to get in on that suit. But it didn't happen.
Christians need to be aware of their rights. We ARE allowed to pray in public. We ARE allowed to pray in schools -- as long as we don't force anyone else to pray. Students can pray whenever they want -- again, as long as they do not coerce anyone else. Teachers in public schools are permitted to honestly answer questions about religious faith, especially in the context of a history class. We have rights and privileges that we are not using, because we are ignorant of them, and we don't care to defend these rights.
Penn and Meade knew their rights as Englishmen. They knew that they had done nothing wrong, and they were willing to rock the boat to defend their rights. Because, as Penn states, if they can do it to one person, they can do it to all of us.
In a society that is increasingly hostile to public displays of religious devotion, we need to be aware of our rights as citizens, and we must be willing to defend those rights, for ourselves and for others.