As a Catholic and a College of William and Mary student, I call upon College President Taylor Reveley and the Admissions Office to abandon plans to celebrate the coronation of King William III and Queen Mary II April 12. The King and Queen’s primary legislative achievements were stripping British and Irish Catholics of their civil and political rights. To celebrate such an event is repugnant and an affront to the values of religious freedom and equality before the law that we cherish as Americans.
The so-called “Glorious Revolution,” in which William and Mary came to power, was a military coup, encouraged by anti-Catholic bigots in the English Parliament who could not abide having a king who was a practicing Catholic and who permitted Catholic civil rights. William landed in England at the head of a powerful Dutch army. When anti-Catholic rioting broke out in London, King James II and other English Catholics fled to Ireland. After taking the throne, William and Mary implemented legislation banning English Catholics from voting, carrying weapons or attending school abroad. Punitive taxes were levied on Catholics. Catholics and spouses of Catholics were barred from becoming King or Queen of England — a law that remains in effect today. William and Mary expelled Catholics from the Irish Parliament and banned them from serving in it. Under laws instituted by William and Mary’s new Protestant Parliament, which represented only a small percentage of the population, Irish Catholics were barred from serving in government or the military, owning weapons or good horses, attending school, practicing law or medicine, buying land or marrying a Protestant. The prohibition of Catholic land purchases, and legal obstacles to Catholics meant most Catholics soon lost their land. Such was the result of William and Mary’s ascension.
Our Founding Fathers recognized the evils of the Penal Laws. That is why we have the First Amendment, which guarantees, in Thomas Jefferson’s words, “a wall of separation between church and state,” and why the Constitution mandates that “no religious test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”
Unlike Charter Day, which celebrates the establishment of the College, Coronation Day celebrates the codification of a violent seizure of power prompted by religious bigotry that led directly to large-scale loss of freedom. While it is well and good to acknowledge the College’s historical ties to England, it is wrong to celebrate what was primarily an act of political and religious oppression. The ascension of William and Mary is inseparable from the Penal Laws they soon enacted.
Celebrating William and Mary’s rise to power is equivalent to celebrating the Nuremburg Laws or the Spanish Inquisition. If the administration persists with this celebration, I encourage my fellow students not to take part. Instead, take the opportunity to appreciate the rights we have as Americans — especially freedom of religion and equality before the law.
E-mail Brian Doyle at [email protected]