The free exercise of religion

For Locke, the free exercise of religion – as long as it did not disrupt the social order – was a God-given right.

The attempt to impose religious uniformity only resulted in persecution and the century-long wars which had devastated continental Europe and England. Locke argued for a total separation between Church and State.

But did not argue for separation on the grounds of protecting religion from corruption by the State but because it was the State’s role to protect the rights of the people, not their souls. The fate of their soul was a matter between each individual and their god.

Only thirty years earlier Thomas Hobbes, simultaneously one of the most admired and loathed thinkers of his time, had come to the opposite conclusion. Hobbes had lived through England’s Civil Wars.

He believed that religious differences – the failure to impose religious uniformity – were to blame for the wars.

His answer, propounded in 1651 in his famous work Leviathan, as to how to prevent such conflict from ever occurring again, was an absolutist rule. The ruler must be head of the Church as well as of the State and impose religious uniformity.

Selina O’Grady

Taken from Mano Chil

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