Wearing William Penn’s Hat

Wearing William Penn’s Hat May 2, 2014

Tonight, the Manhattan Declaration visits Philadelphia. I’ll be speaking on religious liberty at the National Constitution Center, along with an outstanding list of friends. As I finalized my remarks here on the Amtrak, I was reminded of a story I first read in Michael W. McConnell’s Harvard Law Review article The Origins and Historical Understanding of Free Exercise of Religion. The story is of William Penn and his hat.

In 1670, in England, the namesake of the commonwealth of Pennsylvania was called before the court to face an indictment for speaking to an unlawful assembly. (A Quaker meeting, actually.) Men of the time wore hats, which were required to be removed in deference to the authority of the court. Penn’s religious convictions forbade such a gesture, so he came to court bareheaded in a magnanimous attempt to avoid any further tension between his convictions and the authorities. But the judge, fully aware of Penn’s religious scruples, ordered an officer to place a hat on his head, and watched to see what Penn would do.


Penn refused to doff the hat. Though he was acquitted of the original charge, he was held in contempt and imprisoned.

Friends, the world wants to put a hat on your head. But, in the words of the Manhattan Declaration:

“because we honor justice and the common good, we will not comply with any edict that purports to compel our institutions to participate in abortions, embryo-destructive research, assisted suicide and euthanasia, or any other anti-life act; nor will we bend to any rule purporting to force us to bless immoral sexual partnerships, treat them as marriages or the equivalent, or refrain from proclaiming the truth, as we know it, about morality and immorality and marriage and the family.  We will fully and ungrudgingly render to Caesar what is Caesar’s.  But under no circumstances will we render to Caesar what is God’s.”

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