The right to do right is my definition of physical liberty; the right to do anything that does not interfere with the real happiness of others. “The right of one human being ceases where the right of another commences.” I define intellectual liberty to be the right to think right, and the right to think wrong – provided you do your best to think right.
This must be so, because thought is only an instrumentality by which we seek to ascertain the truth. Every man has the right to think, whether his thought is in reality right or wrong; and he cannot be accountable to any being for thinking wrong. There is upon man, so far as thought is concerned, the obligation to think the best he can, and to honestly express his best thought. Whenever he finds what is right, or what he honestly believes to be the right, he is less than a man if he fears to express his conviction before an assembled world.
I believe in Liberty, Fraternity and Equality – the Blessed Trinity of Humanity.
I believe in Observation, Reason and Experience – the Blessed Trinity of Science.
I believe in Man, Woman and Child – the Blessed Trinity of Life and Joy.
I have said, and still say, that you have no right to endeavor by force to compel another to think your way – that man has no right to compel his fellow-man to adopt his creed, by torture or social ostracism. I have said, and still say, that even an infinite God has and can have no right to compel by force or threats even the meanest of mankind to accept a dogma abhorrent to his mind. As a matter of fact such a power is incapable of being exercised. You may compel a man to say that he has changed his mind. You may force him to say that he agrees with you. In this way, however, you make hypocrites, not converts.
Is it possible that a god wishes the worship of a slave? Does a god desire the homage of a coward? Does he really long for the adoration of a hypocrite? Is it possible that he requires the worship of one who dare not think? If I were a god it seems to me that I had rather have the esteem and love of one grand, brave man, with plenty of heart and plenty of brain, than the blind worship, the ignorant adoration, the trembling homage of a universe of men afraid to reason. And yet I am warned by the orthodox guardians of superstition not to think. I am told that I am in danger of hell; that for me to express my honest convictions is to excite the wrath of God. They inform me that unless I believe in a certain way, meaning their way, I am in danger of everlasting fire.
There was a time when these threats whitened the faces of men with fear. That time has substantially passed away. For a hundred years hell has been gradually growing cool, the flames have been slowly dying out, the brimstone is nearly exhausted, the fires have been burning lower and lower, and the climate gradually changing. To such an extent has the change already been effected that if I were going there tonight I would take an overcoat and a box of matches.
They say that the eternal future of man depends upon his belief. I deny it. A conclusion honestly arrived at by the brain cannot possibly be a crime; and the man who says it is, does not think so. The god who punishes it as a crime is simply an infamous tyrant. As for me, I would a thousand times rather go to perdition and suffer its torments with the brave, grand thinkers of the world, than go to heaven and keep the company of a god who would damn his children for an honest belief.