Mr. Hay to Mr. Bridgman.

No. 96.]

Sir: I inclose for your perusal copy of a letter addressed to the President by the Rev. John Lee, chairman of a committee appointed by the Chicago Methodist Ministers’ Meeting to make efforts to bring about larger religious liberty in the Republics of Bolivia Ecuador, and Peru.

This Government, practicing as it does at home the largest principles of freedom of thought and belief, is naturally desirous to see its citizens enjoy in other countries a reasonable freedom from restrictions or disabilities imposed by reason of religious faith. While recognizing that the determination of the internal policy of a nation is an attribute of its sovereignty, the United States have not hesitated to express this desire, in considerate and friendly ways, as in the instance of the marriage laws of Peru, to the end that the law-abiding citizens of the United States sojourning in lands to which our country is bound by ties of amity and similarity of representative institutions may be relieved from discriminations affecting their individual life, liberties, and domestic relations in a manner at variance with the tendencies of this liberal age.

Instructions to be found upon your files show the deep interest this Government has long taken in procuring for its citizens in Bolivia a rational measure of freedom of worship and teaching, and due recognition of their domestic relations so far as may be consistent with the lawful practice of modern nations whose devotion to the cause of human advancement and the inculcation of high morality can not be questioned.

You are requested to examine and report upon the present condition of the legislation of Bolivia in regard to the liberty of conscience and teaching enjoyed by foreigners and as respects the status of aliens contracting marriage according to other rites and codes than those of the established church.

If in the course of your examination you shall deem the ascertained facts to warrant you in so doing, you are authorized to make such discreet representations in the proper quarters, by way of friendly but earnest suggestion, as may conduce to the desired end. You will, however, [Page 113] be cautious in such case to avoid wounding the sensibilities of a generous people or appearing to advocate any unduly exceptional treatment of the natives of the country.

I am, etc.,

John Hay.

Mr. Lee to the President.

Honored Sir: The committee appointed by the Chicago Methodist Ministers’ Meeting to direct a movement to secure for Protestants in the Republics of Peru, Ecuador, and Bolivia that same liberty of conscience which is enjoyed by Roman Catholics in the United States of America desires to invite your attention to the following resolutions, offered by the Rev. Dr. P. H. Swift, which were unanimously adopted:

Whereas we have heard with greatest pleasure the report of Rev. John Lee, chairman of our committee on civil and religious liberty, giving a detailed account of the correspondence between the committee and the President and State Department of the United States: Therefore

Resolved, That we hereby express our grateful appreciation of the prompt and satisfactory action of the President and Department of State, and trust and pray that the expressed wish of our Government may meet with prompt response, not only by the Government of Peru, but also by all of the Republics of South America.

Resolved, That we commend our committee on civil and religious liberty for its vigorous and efficient service. We heartily indorse its action and urge it to continue its good work in the interest of the sacred rights of humanity.

The communication from the Department of State said:

The Department advised our legation at Lima of its hopes that Peru would adopt a marriage law more consonant with the general practice of modern nations, and expressed its concern lest the civil rights of American citizens in that quarter might be impaired through the deficiency of existing law. It was further stated that this Government would be glad to learn that the subject would be revived at the next session of the Congress and satisfactorily disposed of.

Copy of your letter will be forwarded to our legation in connection with the instructions referred to.

While the committee rejoices that Peru has already adopted “a marriage law more consonant with the general practice of modern nations,” it would be more than pleased if the kindly offices of the United States Government would be exercised in securing in Bolivia, and especially in Ecuador, what has already been secured in Peru. The communications received by the committee from South America are in perfect harmony with a letter written to the Chicago Record from Guayaquil, Ecuador, July 12, by William E. Curtis, formerly United States commissioner to the South American Republics, and published in the issue of that paper for August 8, 1899. Mr. Curtis, after observing that “it is expected at the next meeting of Congress a law will be passed granting freedom of worship in Ecuador to all religious denominations,” says:

The marriage law, however, has not been amended. No Protestant clergyman is allowed to perform the ceremony, and, under the existing statutes, no marriage is lawful unless sanctioned by a Catholic priest. Children born after Protestant marriages are considered illegitimate and can not inherit property; but it is expected that this will be changed at the next session of Congress, and the civil right of marriage established.

[Page 114]

Kindly permit me to restate what appeared in my first communication. The committee aims at the accomplishment of three things: (1) To secure religious liberty for missionaries working in the Republics of Peru, Ecuador, and Bolivia. (2) To secure religious liberty for native Christians who dissent from the Roman Catholic faith. (3) To secure in these South American Republics the fullest civil liberty for American citizens and native-born Protestants, especially by the legalization of marriages performed by others than clergy of the Roman Catholic Church.

That the rich blessing of the Almighty God may ever rest on our country and its Chief Executive is my fervent prayer.

Believe me, etc.,

John Lee,
Chairman of the Committee.