§ Mr. Hume
presented a petition from Stokesley, praying for Freedom of Public Discussion, both in speaking and writing. He said, he quite agreed with the petitioners in censuring the number of prosecutions for publishing books on religious topics; to which prosecutions new vigour seemed to have been given since the present Attorney-general had come into his office.
§ Mr. M. A. Taylor
did not oppose the bringing up the petition, but he would take leave to say, that if such opinions as those promulgated by Carlile and others were disseminated with impunity, the uninformed, and lower classes of society would be left without protection against the basest and most mischievous schemes. He had himself seen a House in Fleet-street, on which was an inscription stating, that it was the "Repository for the Deist and the Republican." He had no objection to every man's worshipping God in his own way; but he must denounce as highly dangerous such practices as these. There ought to be a Church Establishment in every state; but the attack now made was levelled against all religion.
§ Mr. Hume
replied, that nothing contained in the petition warranted the tirade just delivered by the hon. member. Such tirades were generally mere cant and hypocrisy. One of the cant words employed on these occasions was "Blasphemy," which even the hon. member would find it difficult to explain. The petition only prayed freedom of discussion. He moved, that the clerk should read it at length. It was read accordingly.
§ Mr. M. A Taylor
threw himself upon the candour of the House, to decide whether any thing he had said warranted the anger his hon. friend had expressed. In his opinion, the purport of the petition was, to prevent prosecutions for publications injurious to religion. No man was prosecuted for his opinions. It was lord Mansfield's doctrine, that if the Devil came into Court, he must have' justice; and even those who had impugned the Gospel and blasphemed religion, had met with 1079 the most impartial treatment. The cant and hypocrisy was all on the other side, when such books as Queen Mab were put forth as fair works of doctrinal discussion.
§ Mr. W. Smith
admitted, that his hon. friend was as free as any man from cant and hypocrisy. Religion must stand upon truth only, and truth could only be discovered by discussion. He once had believed that the promulgation of certain opinions ought to be repressed; but he was now convinced that such a doctrine was equally dangerous to truth, and to the liberty of the subject. All experience tended to shew, that prosecutions for religion's sake were ineffectual.
§ Ordered to lie on the table.