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Religious Freedom: Historical Perspectives. Gary B. Doxey International Center for Law and Religion Studies at BYU June 23, 2011. Lord Acton, 1834-1902. [F] ree government . . . can only be the fruit of long, manifold, and painful experience.

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Religious freedom historical perspectives

Religious Freedom:Historical Perspectives

Gary B. Doxey

International Center for Law and Religion Studies at BYU

June 23, 2011


Lord acton 1834 1902
Lord Acton, 1834-1902

[F]ree government . . . can only be the fruit of long, manifold, and painful experience.

Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.



Tension between competing ideas
Tension between Competing Ideas

  • A dynamic of history since ancient times.

  • Often in the form of old versus new ideas.

  • Tension greatest when ideas challenge authority.

  • E.g., Galileo Galilei, 1564-1642.


Quick personal observations
Quick Personal Observations

  • Religious freedom is a very rare thing in human history.

  • Its price has usually been very high.


Religious freedom in history four patterns of evolution
Religious Freedom in History: Four Patterns of Evolution

  • Conversion of a ruler who proclaims freedom of belief and practice for the new religion – often replaced in the next generation by intolerance for the old religion.

  • Religious conflict (really exhaustion from conflict) leading to a modus vivendiof some tolerance.

  • Introduction of new ideas through trade, proselytism, conquest, or immigration, resulting in attitudes of pluralism.

  • Intellectual and political commitment to freedom.


The traditional narrative of freedom the reformation
The Traditional Narrative of Freedom:The Reformation

Luther Calvin


Miquel servet 1511 1553
MiquelServet, 1511-1553


Sebastian castellio 1515 1563
Sebastian Castellio, 1515-1563

  • His ideas on tolerance resonate positively today

  • “To kill a man is not to protect a doctrine, but it is to kill a man.”




Schuilkerk or hidden church
Schuilkerk or “Hidden Church”


Treaties the original western european form of religious freedom law
Treaties: the original Western European form of religious freedom law

  • Peace of Augsburg (1555)

  • Union of Utrecht (1579)

  • Peace of Westphalia (1648)



The rule
The Rule freedom law

Cuiusregio, eiusreligio

Whose region, his religion



The enlightenment and revolution
The Enlightenment and Revolution freedom law

Locke Jefferson Madison



Old prejudices slow to give way
Old Prejudices Slow to Give Way freedom law

Anne Hutchinson on Trial




Declaration of the rights of man 1789
Declaration of the Rights of Man, 1789 freedom law

“No one shall be disquieted on account of his opinions, including his religious views, provided their manifestation does not disturb the public order established by law.”



The universal declaration of human rights 1948
The Universal Declaration freedom lawof Human Rights, 1948


Toward a competent history of religious freedom
Toward a Competent History freedom lawof Religious Freedom

  • Elements of “myth,” in a positive sense, are in the historical narrative

  • Careful and thoughtful, more nuanced study and analysis are needed

  • The need for appreciation and understanding of religious freedom is great “Lest we forget.”


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