Monday, June 11, 2012

When the House of Commons acted as a Court of Justice

In October 1656 James Naylor travelled to Bristol in company with seven Friends, including Martha Simmonds. The group travelled in procession through Glastonbury and Wells and entered Bristol on 24 October. Nayler went on horseback while his companions sang hosannas and cast garments before him in what many regarded as a blasphemous imitation of Christ's entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. The Bristol Quakers immediately disassociated themselves from Nayler and his followers, who were arrested and charged under the Blasphemy Act of 1650. Although Nayler maintained it was a symbolic act, he was accused of impersonating Christ and claiming divine status. The case came to the attention of the Second Protectorate Parliament. Despite legal doubts regarding Parliament's authority to conduct a trial, Nayler was taken to London to answer to the House of Commons. Many MPs were suspicious of the religious freedom granted under the Protectorate and regarded Nayler's case as an example of the worst excesses of toleration. In December 1656, a majority declared him guilty of blasphemy and a fierce debate ensued regarding the extent of his punishment, with some MPs demanding that he should be stoned to death in accordance with the Old Testament penalty for blasphemy (Leviticus 24:16). Despite Cromwell's call for leniency, Nayler was sentenced to be whipped through the streets, exposed in the pillory, have his tongue bored through with a red-hot iron and to have the letter "B" for blasphemer branded on his forehead. He was then returned to Bristol and made to repeat his ride in reverse while facing the rear of his horse. Finally, he was taken back to London and committed to solitary confinement in Bridewell for an indefinite period. 

With some journalists being held in contempt of Parliament and demands for the House of Commons to punish them will they get the same justice as James Naylor?

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