This Week in Texas Methodist History December 27
Rutersville Trustee Defends Rights of Muslims and Jews in the Republic of Texas, December 30, 1841
The current debate over religious freedom vs. Christian nationalism is not really a new issue. As early as 1841 it was debated in the House of Representatives of the Republic of Texas.
The issue seemed simple enough. The Congress of the Republic was considering a bill that would create a generic incorporation process for churches and cemeteries . The main impetus for the bill was to relieve the House from having to pass individual incorporation bills for every church that so petitioned them. The incorporation bill specified that churches could petition District Judges to grant incorporation rather than coming to Congress.
At the evening session on December 30, 1841, Representative John Winfield Scott Dancy, (1810-1866) who represented Fayette County moved to amend the bill by adding after “christians” the language “or other professors of religion.”
In speaking for his amendment, Dancy, who was an original trustee of Rutersville College, said,
“. . . the privilege should be extended to all persuasions, the Mahometan who chants his muezzin at the mosque, and the Jew who is yet waiting the coming of a savior.”
Dancy’s amendment was rejected. The House then had an extended debate on the original bill. The debate revolved around the fears of some Representaives that they were abdicating their responsibility. Even though passing individual incorporation bills was tedious, they were also jealous of their powers vis-à-vis the District Judges.
The debate continued long enough for Dancy to introduce another amendment, this time striking “Christian” and inserting “religious persons.” This time his amendment passed, thereby putting the House on record as favoring equal treatment of all religions.
The bill then was tabled 21-11. Among the minority votes, besides Dancy, was A. J. Fowler (1815-1885), Littleton Fowler’s brother, and Representative from Clarksville.
Dancy was one of the most progressive citizens of Texas. He is credited with introducing long staple cotton, having the first hydraulic ram used for irrigation, and also for vigorous promotion of railroad construction. He earned the nickname, “Father of Texas Railways.”