The Ultimate Clash of Loyalties

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Conflicts between loyalties is common. It is present every day in business, societal, and personal relationships. Most of these conflicts can be mitigated through mutual communication and compromise. Even in irreconcilable conflicts of loyalty, individuals are free to disengage from one another subject to their legal responsibilities. But it is far more serious when our most sacred beliefs conflict with loyalty to the nation.

Patrick Henry faced this ultimate clash of loyalties. In 1765 Henry introduced the Virginia Stamp Act Resolutions “in language so extreme that some Virginians said it smacked of treason.” Ten years later, with many still wishing for reconciliation with England, Patrick Henry’s fearless speech severed whatever was left of his allegiance to King George III: “Should I keep back my opinions at such a time, through fear of giving offence, I should consider myself guilty of treason towards my country, and of an act of disloyalty toward the majesty of heaven, which I revere above all earthly kings.” He ended with the famous line: “I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”

Extreme disloyalty to one’s country is defined as treason. William Blackstone, the great English legal authority at the time of the American Revolution, believed treason was “the highest civil crime, which any man can possibly commit.” Blackstone described seven old and three new categories of Treason. Law professor Rollin M. Perkins sums these up: “High treason, in the words of Blackstone, is the term applied ‘when disloyalty so rears its crest as to attack even Majesty itself.’ In ancient common law, it consisted of killing the king, promoting revolt in the kingdom or in the armed forces, or counterfeiting the great seal.” Patrick Henry and the other colonialists were clearly promoting what England felt was “revolt in the kingdom.” This ultimate clash of loyalties meant either a successful revolution or death.

Concept of Treason Used to Force Religious Belief and Unbelief

The unlimited power of the Roman emperor led to unjust charges of treason. “With Diocletian, the emperor’s powers became supernatural and sacred. . . . The imperial cult emphasized the convergence of treason and impiety, so that insult to the divine ruler became the equivalent of injury to the state, and even utterances concerning the emperor.”

Centuries later Communism declared any religion as being disloyal to the state. Lenin’s belief was that religion is counter to the good of the working class and society: “‘Religion is the opium of the people’: this saying of Marx is the cornerstone of the entire ideology of Marxism about religion.”Albania outlawed religion: “By May 1967, religious institutions had been forced to relinquish all 2,169 churches, mosques, cloisters, and shrines in Albania.” Until this was reversed in 1990, practicing one’s religion meant three to 10 years in prison. Many died in prison rather than abandon loyalty to their beliefs.

“Clash of Loyalties” in the Christian World

The Catholic Encyclopedia informs us that “St. Paul did not, in the case of the heretics Alexander and Hymenaeus, go back to the Old Covenant penalties of death or scourging . . . , but deemed exclusion from the communion of the church sufficient (1 Timothy 1:20; Titus 3:10). In fact, to the Christians of the first three centuries it could scarcely have occurred to assume any other attitude toward those who erred in matters of faith. Tertullian (Ad Scapulam, c. ii) lays down the rule: . . . he tells us that the natural law authorized man to follow only the voice of individual conscience in the practice of religion, since the acceptance of religion was a matter of free will, not of compulsion.”

In the first century Christians and Jews alike were charged with treason against Rome: “Gaius (better known by his boyhood nickname, Caligula) announced he was a god and demanded his subjects worship him as such. Jews, Samaritans, and Christians were faced with a choice between treason to the Roman state and treason to their god.”

After Constantine embraced Christianity, things changed. “In A.D. 380 the emperor Theodosius I defined Catholic Christianity as the official religion of the Empire. All other schools of Christian thought were outlawed as heretical dogmas. . . . Such laws were repeated over and over—between A.D. 378 and 394, at least fourteen times.” Any other belief became treasonous. The death penalty followed, and finally the Inquisition.

Religious persecution continued under Protestant governments. In England Sir Thomas More, accomplished lawyer, diplomat, and author, “was put to death technically on the charge of treason, but in fact for his religious [Catholic] convictions.” Between the years of 1532 and 1540, 329 more were executed for treason. But the bloodletting was not over. England became Catholic again under the reign of Queen Mary, a Catholic and child of Henry VIII’s first wife. Under her rule 280 persons labeled heretics were executed.

Many were persecuted under both Catholic and Protestant governments. “During the Reformation era (1517-1648) over 10,000 Europeans were martyred on the charge of Anabaptism by Catholic and Protestant authorities alike, with around 800 executed between 1527 and 1533.” They were the forerunners of the Baptists, including the Seventh Day Baptists. Sabbatarians were also among the Anabaptists.

Balthasar Hubmaier was a staunch Catholic, receiving his doctorate under John Eck, a leading theological opponent of Martin Luther. Hubmaier “left the University of Ingolstadt for a pastorate of the Catholicchurch at Regensburg in 1516-1519. In 1522 and 1523 he met with a number of reformers, including Huldrych Zwingli. Hubmaier became convinced that Scripture should be supreme in faith and religion. In 1525 he discarded infant baptism as unbiblical and was rebaptized by Anabaptist Wilhelm Reublin in Waldshut, Germany.

When Hubmaier went to Zurich to escape the invading Austrian army, he thought his old acquaintance, Zwingli, would give him asylum.To his consternation, Zwingli had him arrested and tortured. Only after recanting Anabaptist beliefs was he released to travel toNikolsburg in Moravia, now part of the Czech Republic. He arrived in Nikolsburg convinced that it is “imperative that neither the church nor state usurps the authority of the other by transgressing the functional boundaries that God has established between them.” He believed: “To persecute a person for heresy amounts to an implicit denial of the incarnation, since the God revealed in Christ is the God of the invitation, not of coercion.”

“Hubmaier’s synergy of religion and government, viewed as two distinct yet complementary ‘servants of God,’” gave birth to successful governments in first Waldshut and then Nikolsburg. Their respective magistrates embraced the Reformer’s program of not permitting the church nor state to usurp the authority of the other. When Austria again gained control over these territories, these free religious governments came to an end. Hubmaier was arrested and tried on the charge of ‘treason.’“To an Austrian church-state amalgam which insisted that the government had not only the right but the divine obligation to enforce obedience to ‘the one true religion’ (here Roman Catholicism), such a redefinition could only be perceived as outright treason.” Balthaser Hubmaier was convicted. March 10, 1528. He was taken to the public square in Vienna and burned to death. Three days later his loyal wife, Elizabeth, was drowned in the Danube River with a stone tied round her neck. But their influence did not die with them.

After the deaths of Hubmaier and his wife, dramatic changes took place regarding freedom of religion. European countries began, though grudgingly, to tolerate the religious rights of minorities.Still the Colonies were in turmoil over what religion(s) would dominate. The death penalty was decreed for blasphemy, Sunday desecration, idolatry, witchcraft, denying the Bible, and belonging to certain churches. Noble champions stood against these laws, such as William Penn and Roger Williams. Williams specifically believed that the keeping of the first four commandments of the Decalogue, including Sabbathkeeping, idolatry, and blasphemy, were to be rendered to God alone.

In 1787 the Constitution of the United States was drafted with the First Amendment prohibiting any law ‘respecting an establishment of religion’ and protecting the ‘free exercise’ of religion. (In our era, in 1948, the newly formed United Nations proclaimed The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Article 18 read: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.”)

Thomas Jefferson, in his first inaugural address, warned against both religious and political intolerance: “Let us reflect that, having banished from our land that religious intolerance under which mankind so long bled and suffered, we have yet gained little if we countenance a political intolerance as despotic, as wicked, and capable of as bitter and bloody persecutions. Jefferson believed the intolerance of political or religious views of others was despotic and wicked. A climate of political division, strife, and hatred is likely to also develop religious intolerance.

Symbolism and the Clash of Loyalties

The countries of the world often use official symbols that represent religious beliefs. According to a new Pew Research analysis, 64 countries have religious symbols on their national flags. Two thirds of these are Christian and Islamic. Hindu, Buddhist, and Jewish symbols also appear on national flags. It can be argued that these religious symbols represent only the heritage of the country, not requiring allegiance to any belief. Still, today there are countries in which these symbols combine to require deference to the majority religious belief.

The charges of treason against the Anabaptists were based on the symbol of baptism. Adult baptism versus infant baptism affected the numbers and power of both Protestant and Catholic churches. This created a “high affinity between rebaptism and treason, as infant baptism comprised the cornerstone of the church-state Christendom amalgam.”

Could a religious belief such as when and how one should be baptized become a nation’s highest crime in the modern world? This would create anew the ultimate clash of loyalties. In part 2 we will discuss how even the United States Supreme Court decisions might condone majority beliefs over minority beliefs.

See Charles L. Mee, Jr., Genius of the People: The Making of the Constitution (to mark the 200th anniversary of the Constitution: the human and eventful story of the Constitutional Convention of 1787) (New York: Harper & Row, 1987), p. 143.

William Wirt, Sketches of the Life and Character of Patrick Henry(Philadelphia: 1836), as reproduced in The World’s Great Speeches, ed. Lewis Copeland and Lawrence W. Lamm (New York: 1973).

William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England: A Facsimile of the First Edition of 1765-1769 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), p. 75.

Ibid., pp. 76-93.

R. M. Perkins, Criminal Law (New York: Foundation Press, 1957), p. 8.

F. S. Lear, Treason and Related Offenses in Roman and Germanic Law. (Houston: Rice University, 1955), pp. 66, 70.

V. I. Lenin, “About the Attitude of the Working Party Toward Religion,” Collected Works, vol. 17, p. 41.

Albania: “The Cultural and Intellectual Revolution,”

“Inquisition: The Suppression of Heresy During the First Twelve Centuries,” The Catholic Encyclopedia (New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907).

M. J. Engh, In the Name of Heaven: 3,000 Years of Religious Persecution (Amherst, N.Y.: Prometheus Books, 2007), p. 62.

Ibid., p. 97.

Ibid., p. 163.

Ibid., p. 174.

Ibid., p. 175.

Kirk R. MacGregor, “Hubmaier’s Death and the Threat of a Free State Church,” Church History and Religious Culture 91, nos. 3-4 (2011): 321.

K. A. Strand, ed., The Sabbath in Scripture and History (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald, 1982),

pp. 220-222.

MacGregor, p. 325


Ibid., pp. 326, 327.

Ibid., p. 330.

Ibid., p. 334.

William Addison Blakely, American State Papers on Freedom in Religion (Washington, D.C.: Review and Herald, 1943), pp. 26-34.

James D. Richardson, Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Presidents, 1789-1897, in Forgotten Books (2016), vol. 1, p. 310.

MacGregor, p. 322.

Article Author: Tom Carter