Prominent among the expressions of religious thought in...

Michigan Law Review

Prominent among the expressions of religious thought in this country in recent years is that of Christian Science. Its teaching in regard to the healing of disease without any material agencies has called forth many comments on the question of religious liberty. As it has attracted to it a large and ever-increasing number of intelligent and law-abiding citizens all over the country, and as there have been several efforts to restrict partially or totally by proscriptive legislation its practise as a means of healing, we deem it proper to set forth in a general way some of the questions, with the conclusions of well-recognized authorities, that lie at the root of the matter.

While Christian Science is a healing system, it cannot be considered as a "school of medicine," but rather as a religion. It is defined by the Century dictionary as "a system of religious teaching, based on the Scriptures, which originated with the Rev. Mary Baker Eddy about 1866. Its most notable application is in the professed cure of disease by mental and spiritual means." For present purposes it may be said that Christian Science purports to be the re-establishment of the practises of primitive Christianity, and it is a historical fact, recognized by Gibbon in the "Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire," that Christian healing was practised down to the third century. It does its healing by virtue of divine law. Its "treatment" is but a mode of prayer in which this ever-operative divine law is sought to be applied to the sick and sinful; and this is all a Christian Scientist does, whether for himself or for others. It will be seen, therefore, that the practise of Christian Science is of a distinctly religious character. This being true, statutes passed with a view to the regulation of the practise of "medicine and surgery" cannot be said to apply to Christian Scientists, or others, who use a method of healing which is founded upon a religious belief.

Because of its religious character, the practise of Christian Science is protected in this country by ample constitutional provisions, both federal and state, so long as such practise does not imperil society or interfere with the rights of others. The first amendment to the constitution of the United States provides that "Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." This provision, which is but a limitation on the power of Congress, does not protect the individual, in the security of religious freedom, from the action of state government. All of the state constitutions have, however, provisions on this subject, and the following from the constitution of California is substantially the same in all the states: "The free exercise and enjoyment of religious profession and worship, without discrimination or preference, shall be forever guaranteed in this state; and no person shall be rendered incompetent to be a witness or juror on account of his opinions on matters of religious belief; but the liberty of conscience hereby secured shall not be construed as to excuse acts of licentiousness, or justify practises inconsistent with the peace or safety of the state" (Art. I, Sect. 4).

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