HC Deb 17 April 1826 vol 15 cc275-6
Mr. Hume

rose to present a petition signed by about three hundred individuals, setting forth "That the petitioners, taking into consideration the high dishonour reflected on the Christian religion, and the absolute surrender of the great principle of the Protestant Reformation, which is the right of private judgment, in the late prosecutions for blasphemy, most humbly beseech the House to pass an act for the immediate and unconditional liberation of all persons now under confinement for blasphemy, impiety, or heretical pravity of any kind or degree whatever; and that it might be made the law of England that from henceforth no person or persons shall ever be subject to annoyance or prosecution for the holding, maintaining, or propagating, by printing or preaching, any religious principles whatever, provided they conduct themselves as virtuous members of the community, and loyal subjects of our sovereign lord the King." He concurred in the opinion of the petitioners, that no man ought to be imprisoned for holding a religious opinion which happened to be different from his neighbours; and it was certainly a reflection on the present enlightened age, that people should be cast into prison for three, four, and five years, for no other crime than that of thinking as they pleased upon speculative subjects. He was glad to find that the present Secretary of State for the home department did not, like some of his predecessors, encourage these prosecutions; still it was singular, that when, on a late occasion, he had ordered the liberation of Mr. Carlile, he had not also set at liberty a number of other persons who were incarcerated for offences of the same nature. If these matters were left to their own operation, without the notoriety of state trials, they would soon become things of utter indifference.

Mr. Secretary Peel

said, that there was a great distinction between Carlile's case and that of the others to whom the hon. member alluded, and who were confined for certain definite periods. The additional confinement which had been endured by the former individual was by way of commutation for his fine and sureties.

Mr. Serjeant Onslow

denied that these prosecutions interfered with the right of private judgment, unless, indeed, that could be called such which struck at the root of all morality and religion. It was an abuse of terms to designate blasphemy and impiety as connected with the just right of free opinion in a well-regulated state.

Ordered to lie on the table.