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Government Should Not Compel Religion

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posted on May, 12 2012 @ 07:42 PM

esteem it above all things necessary to distinguish exactly the business of civil government from that of religion and to settle the just bounds that lie between the one and the other. If this be not done, there can be no end put to the controversies that will be always arising between those that have, or at least pretend to have, on the one side, a concernment for the interest of men’s souls, and, on the other side, a care of the commonwealth. The commonwealth seems to me to be a society of men constituted only for the procuring, preserving, and advancing their own civil interests.

Civil interests I call life, liberty, health, and indolency of body; and the possession of outward things, such as money, lands, houses, furniture, and the like… The care of souls cannot belong to the civil magistrate, because his power consists only in outward force; but true and saving religion consists in the inward persuasion of the mind, without which nothing can be acceptable to God. And such is the nature of the understanding, that it cannot be compelled to the belief of anything by outward force… It is one thing to persuade, another to command; one thing to press with arguments, another with penalties.

This civil power alone has a right to do; to the other, goodwill is authority enough. Every man has commission to admonish, exhort, convince another of error, and, by reasoning, to draw him into truth; but to give laws, receive obedience, and compel with the sword, belongs to none but the magistrate. And, upon this ground, I affirm that the magistrate's power extends not to the establishing of any articles of faith, or forms of worship, by the force of his laws. For laws are of no force at all without penalties, and penalties in this case are absolutely impertinent, because they are not proper to convince the mind… Let us now consider what a church is.

A church, then, I take to be a voluntary society of men, joining themselves together of their own accord in order to the public worshipping of God in such manner as they judge acceptable to Him, and effectual to the salvation of their souls. I say it is a free and voluntary society. Nobody is born a member of any church; otherwise the religion of parents would descend unto children by the same right of inheritance as their temporal estates, and everyone would hold his faith by the same tenure he does his lands, than which nothing can be imagined more absurd… And, first, I hold that no church is bound, by the duty of toleration, to retain any such person in her bosom as, after admonition, continues obstinately to offend against the laws of the society… Secondly, no private person has any right in any manner to prejudice another person in his civil enjoyments because he is of another church or religion…

John Lock

A Letter Concerning Toleration

In short he is arguing that it is not government's business to encourage or discourage religion, that it should be a private matter.

So who is John Locke?

29 August 1632 – 28 October 1704, widely known as the Father of Classical Liberalism, was an English philosopher and physician regarded as one of the most influential of Enlightenment thinkers. He was quite influential in early American thought. Along with Thomas Pain and other thinkers, his writings influenced things like our American Constitution.

And it is he who argued that we have a social contract with our country.

posted on May, 12 2012 @ 08:04 PM
I'm sorry, that's not what I see in it. Clearly the civil magistrate may not enter the field of religion with laws, penalties, and compulsion. But Locke allows all men to exhort, argue, reason, and attempt to persuade.

The piece you quoted says nothing about encouraging or discouraging religion being wrong, just applying force or the law. It would appear that Locke (at least from this piece) would be quite accepting of any man, including the President, speaking to the people in an attempt to persuade them to become religious.

If I've misinterpreted, please show me where.

posted on May, 12 2012 @ 08:12 PM
reply to post by charles1952

Sorry, I forgot the link to the full text:

First, because the care of souls is not committed to the civil magistrate, any more than to other men. It is not committed unto him, I say, by God; because it appears not that God has ever given any such authority to one man over another as to compel anyone to his religion. Nor can any such power be vested in the magistrate by the consent of the people, because no man can so far abandon the care of his own salvation as blindly to leave to the choice of any other, whether prince or subject, to prescribe to him what faith or worship he shall embrace. For no man can, if he would, conform his faith to the dictates of another. All the life and power of true religion consist in the inward and full persuasion of the mind; and faith is not faith without believing. Whatever profession we make, to whatever outward worship we conform, if we are not fully satisfied in our own mind that the one is true and the other well pleasing unto God, such profession and such practice, far from being any furtherance, are indeed great obstacles to our salvation.

For in this manner, instead of expiating other sins by the exercise of religion, I say, in offering thus unto God Almighty such a worship as we esteem to be displeasing unto Him, we add unto the number of our other sins those also of hypocrisy and contempt of His Divine Majesty.

In the second place, the care of souls cannot belong to the civil magistrate, because his power consists only in outward force; but true and saving religion consists in the inward persuasion of the mind, without which nothing can be acceptable to God. And such is the nature of the understanding, that it cannot be compelled to the belief of anything by outward force. Confiscation of estate, imprisonment, torments, nothing of that nature can have any such efficacy as to make men change the inward judgement that they have framed of things.

posted on May, 12 2012 @ 08:13 PM
Minerva as a symbol of enlightened wisdom protects the believers of all religions (Daniel Chodowiecki, 1791)

The Greeks and I call her Athena, one of my Patronesses.
That probably has some bearing on why I consider Freedom of Conscience/Religion to be a gift from God.

Odd though, it looks like only one guy in the whole crowd even notices her. Well what do know about that!
edit on 12-5-2012 by pthena because: (no reason given)

posted on May, 12 2012 @ 08:18 PM
reply to post by charles1952

Hi Charles,

I see what you're saying, but I think Locke is speaking in terms of official and unofficial capacity. The magistrate is a man, therefore, as an individual he has the same rights as any other. But when acting in his official capacity, he forfeits that right so as to maintain separation between government and private matters, such as religious worship.

edit on 5/12/2012 by Klassified because: clarity

posted on May, 12 2012 @ 09:09 PM
reply to post by Klassified and EvilSadamClone


Thank you so much for introducing and commenting on Locke's work. It's been a long time since I've read him and I'm grateful for this opportunity. You know, in my fantasy world political campaigns would discuss issues in such a manner. Oh well.

I really want to agree with you both, but I'm having a hard time doing it, would you help me out? Here are a couple of snippets from the essay:

It may indeed be alleged that the magistrate may make use of arguments, and, thereby; draw the heterodox into the way of truth, and procure their salvation. I grant it; but this is common to him with other men. In teaching, instructing, and redressing the erroneous by reason, he may certainly do what becomes any good man to do. Magistracy does not oblige him to put off either humanity or Christianity; but it is one thing to persuade, another to command; one thing to press with arguments, another with penalties.
This is the writing that makes me think that the magistrate, as a magistrate is entitled to speak with the goal of helping men to religion and their salvation. And that Obama, as President, could say the same things Billy Graham does. It's almost as if Locke is saying you don't give up any rights when you're elected to office. And that the government, as a whole, can encourage but not command, religion. (But not any particular religion.)

And you really don't want to be an Atheist in Locke's society:

Lastly, those are not at all to be tolerated who deny the being of a God. Promises, covenants, and oaths, which are the bonds of human society, can have no hold upon an atheist. The taking away of God, though but even in thought, dissolves all; besides also, those that by their atheism undermine and destroy all religion, can have no pretence of religion whereupon to challenge the privilege of a toleration.

Klassified, I'm not sure I'm following you on the official-non-offical capacity distinction.

Magistracy does not oblige him to put off either humanity or Christianity; but it is one thing to persuade, another to command; one thing to press with arguments, another with penalties
Are you saying that if he is acting as a magistrate, then he is obliged to put off humanity and Christianity? I know that's what we say now, but is it what Locke was saying? Remember, George Washington, and most, if not all, of our early Presidents called on the Citizens to pray to God.

With respect,

posted on May, 12 2012 @ 10:16 PM
reply to post by charles1952

Actually Charles, your post clarified things for me. I read the OP without the link, and missed his addition of it in a separate post. Which is my own fault for not paying better attention.

I must withdraw my earlier post, and agree with your perspective on this. Thank you for your eloquent rebuttal.
Always a pleasure Charles.

posted on May, 12 2012 @ 10:44 PM
reply to post by charles1952

Now that you mention it, Locke does seem to have his own ideas about proper religion vs heresy, and an uncomfortable idea of people's responsibility to "save souls". His non-toleration of Atheism seems downright frightening.

Having said that, I guess I don't feel too bad about pointing out that his critics call him a terrible hypocrite

John Locke - Constitution of Carolina
Detractors note that (in 1671) he was a major investor in the English slave-trade through the Royal African Company, as well as through his participation in drafting the Fundamental Constitution of the Carolinas while Shaftesbury's secretary, which established a feudal aristocracy and gave a master absolute power over his slaves. For example, Martin Cohen notes that as a secretary to the Council of Trade and Plantations (1673–4) and a member of the Board of Trade (1696–1700) Locke was, in fact, "one of just half a dozen men who created and supervised both the colonies and their iniquitous systems of servitude".[16] Some see his statements on unenclosed property as having been intended to justify the displacement of the Native Americans.[17][18] Because of his opposition to aristocracy and slavery in his major writings, he is accused of hypocrisy and racism, or of caring only for the liberty of English capitalists.[19]

We should find better examples for examination. Last year I was reading up on Religious Freedom, but I misplaced my notes. It may have been before my last harddrive wipe due to Rootkit virus. Dang it!

posted on May, 12 2012 @ 11:13 PM
I love you guys. A star for everybody and a flag for the OP. Why can't all of ATS deal with issues in an appropriate manner? (except for Jokes, Puns, and Pranks, that's good stuff.) (My doctor has advised me to stay away from threads concerning Islam, Judaism, Trayvon Martin, Ron Paul, 9/11, gay marriage, and those containing multiple references to TPTB, the end of the world, or aliens.) You guys are my link to sanity.

With respect,


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