Many Americans believe they have a God-given right to possess arms as a last resort against tyranny. This draft article (forthcoming later this year in the interdisciplinary journal Bridges) examines one of the most important sources of that belief: the struggle for freedom of conscience in the United Kingdom during the reigns of Elizabeth I and the Stuarts. A moral right and duty to use force against tyranny was explicated by the Scottish Presbyterians George Buchanan and Samuel Rutherford. The free-thinking English Christians John Locke and Algernon Sidney broadened and deepened the ideas of Buchanan and Rutherford. The result was a sophisticated defense of religious freedom, which was to be protected by an armed people ready to resist encroachments on their natural, sacred liberties. The principle that right to arms is the ultimate guarantor of the right to free exercise of religion is one reason why the First and Second Amendments are placed next to each other in the American Bill of Rights.
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UPDATE: A commenter wonders if I am being consistent by criticizing people who support the violent Iraqi terrorist-insurgents, while also asserting (in the commenter's words) that "religious extremists were somehow justified in using violent force against British soldiers."
First, I think it's dubious to claim that the Congregationalist and Presbyterian American ministers who incited the American Revolution were "extremist." But in any case, they're not the subject my article, and it is preposterous to imply that John Locke or Algernon Sidney--among the most tolerant, decent people of their time, or any other time--were "religious extremists." They were extremely tolerant, to their everlasting credit.
The broader point is that I don't criticize Michael Moore and his ilk because they support violence, or because many of the violent people whom they extol are also religious people. I criticize Moore et al. because they support violence whose purpose is imposing totalitarian dictatorship. Violence to impose tyranny is evil; violence to liberate people from tyranny is legitimate, and is sometimes a moral duty. Or so Locke, Sidney, Buchanan, and Rutherford reasoned, and I agree.