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Liberty to practice any or no religion

Freedom of religion is a principle that supports the freedom of an individual or community, in public or private, to manifest religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance. It also includes the freedom to change one's religion or beliefs. Freedom of religion is considered by many people and most of the nations to be a fundamental human right.


Amendment I to the U.S. Constitution
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. ...

Websites - Acton Institute, by Acton Institute
Sections include: research, commentary, blog, Acton University, Lecture Series, awards, scholarships, Religious and Economic Freedom conferences, podcasts, publications and book shop
Americans United for Separation of Church and State
Publishes Church & State monthly journal
Freedom of Religion - Freedom Forum
Religion & Belief | American Civil Liberties Union


Anne Robert Jacques Turgot, Who First Put Laissez-Faire Principles into Action, by Jim Powell, The Freeman, Aug 1997
Biographical essay, covering his life, works and involvement with the Physiocrats, as well as his accomplishments as an administrator
[T]he clergy wanted [Louis XVI] to take the oath for intolerance, "I swear ... to exterminate, &c., entirely from my States all heretics ... condemned by the Church." Church officials insisted, "It is reserved for you to deal the last blow to Calvinism in your kingdom ..." ... [Turgot] wrote a memo to the king, Sur la tolerance, saying the oath was a bad idea ... "The prince who orders his subject to profess a religion he does not believe," Turgot wrote, "commands a crime; the subject who obeys acts a lie, he betrays his conscience, he does an act which, he believes, God forbids ..."
An Arrow against all Tyrants, by Richard Overton, 12 Oct 1646
Full title: An Arrow Against All Tyrants And Tyrany, shot from the Prison of New-gate into the Prerogative Bowels of the Arbitrary House of Lords and all other Usurpers and Tyrants whatsoever
Letter addressed to "Mr Henry Marten, a member of the House of Commons", after two months in Newgate Prison having been arrested for publishing "An Alarum to the House of Lords"
[T]he oppressions, usurpations, and miseries from this prerogative head are not the sole cause of our grievance and complaint, but in especial, the most unnatural, tyrannical, blood-thirsty desires and continual endeavours of the clergy against the contrary-minded in matters of conscience ... [I]t seems these cruel minded men to their brethren, have ... procured a most Romish inquisition ordinance to obtain an admission into the House ... [Y]ou may see what bloody-minded men those of the black presbytery be ... to brand, hang, judge and condemn all for felons that are not like themselves.
The Authority of a Foreign Talisman: A Study of U.S. Constitutional Practice as Authority in Nineteenth Century Argentina and the Argentine Elite's Leap of Faith, by Jonathan M. Miller, American University Law Review, Jun 1997
Examines the history of Argentine law prior to adoption of the 1853 Constitution, the arguments in Alberdi's Bases and the influence of the U.S. Constitution during the remainder of the 19th century and up to 1930
During the debate on freedom of religion, Gutiérrez responded to conservative critics from an Alberdian perspective, arguing that it would be impossible to attract foreigners without allowing them to practice their religion. His opponents, alarmed by this aspect of the Alberdi draft, indicated that the people of their provinces were distressed by Alberdi's emphasis on religious freedom and that Catholic immigration could satisfy Argentina's needs.
Benjamin Tucker, Individualism, & Liberty: Not the Daughter but the Mother of Order, by Wendy McElroy, Literature of Liberty, 1981
Bibliographical essay covering the people and radical movements that influenced Tucker in his founding and publishing of Liberty, its major themes and contributors
Freethought was probably the first radical influence in Tucker's life. Born ... of a Quaker father and a radical Unitarian mother, he was raised in New Bedford, Massachusetts, then a center of Quakerism and religious dissent. In this atmosphere of religious freedom, Tucker clearly recalled "'sitting steadily under the radical preaching' of the Reverend Mr. Potter, who rejected all dogmatic authority, whether of church organizations, scriptures, or creeds, and asserted individual freedom of belief." He received an excellent education from the New Bedford Friends' Academy ...
Don't Fund Religious Groups, by Sheldon Richman, Jun 2001
Argues against George W. Bush's proposal to give taxpayers' money to religious organizations, rather than ending similar subsidies to secular groups
President Bush [is] proposing to spend the taxpayers' money on social-welfare activities performed by religious organizations ... there is no way that the program can avoid funding religion — which is anathema in a free society. The Bush folks assure us the money won't be used this way, but they are being disingenuous ... the fact remains that if a religious social-service organization gets taxpayer money to, say, feed the poor, other money will be freed up for ecclesiastical work. A dollar is a dollar is a dollar. The program may not survive a constitutional test — nor should it.
Related Topics: George W. Bush, Mutualism
Dump the Contraception Mandate and All the Rest, by Sheldon Richman, The Goal Is Freedom, 3 Jan 2014
Questions the logic of advocates of mandating employers to pay for "insurance" coverage of contraceptives
[Some] employers have a religious objection to contraception and ... believe that their freedom of conscience is violated by the mandate that compels them to pay for their employees' birth-control products ... It is the government's decree ... that violates religious liberty. Those who favor the mandate say repeatedly that employers who would refuse to pay for their employees' contraceptives because of religious scruples would be denying women access to contraception. That is obviously a lie, sheer demagogy. No woman would be prohibited from obtaining contraceptive products because her employer refused to pay.
Related Topics: Government, Health Care
Freeing the Education Market, by Sheldon Richman, Freedom Daily, Mar 1993
Examines the effects of compulsory public education on literacy rates and suggests market alternatives
Government schools were not a response to the lack of private education but rather a direct assault on it. Public education was the brainchild of the "Progressive" mindset ... Public education would, in the Progressives' view, homogenize America's ethnically, culturally, and religiously diverse population and create a national culture. (The result has been an enduring and nasty battle over whose values would be subsidized by the taxpayers.) The Catholic schools were a prime target of public education. Indeed, one can see the public school movement as an attempt to, among other things, "Christianize the Catholics."
Historian Paul Johnson on American Liberty, by Paul Johnson, The Freeman, Jun 1996
Topics discussed include religious freedom, abolishing slavery, the impact of immigration, the Founding Fathers, the U.S. Constitution, individualism, reining in government and the prospects for liberty in America
The clergy had much less power than in Europe. This was true from the very beginning. American ministers could determine church membership, but that was about it. American churches were always managed by laymen ... The triumph of voluntarism in American religion led almost everybody to link Christian enthusiasm with political liberty ... The more people came to America, the greater the diversity of views, including religious views. Catholics, Jews, and myriad Protestant sects wanted their views tolerated, free from persecution. It became harder for zealots to impose their views on a burgeoning, diverse population.
Hobby Lobby Ruling Falls Short, by Sheldon Richman, 2 Jul 2014
Dissects the good and bad parts of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, ruling against the Affordable Care Act provision that required employers to pay for contraceptives
Equally ridiculous is the claim that if employers choose not to pay for their employees' birth control, employers are forcing their religious beliefs on employees. If that were true, it would also have to be true that a non-Christian's refusal to pay for a Christian's transportation to church on Sundays would be equivalent to forcing the non-Christian's religious beliefs on the Christian ... Another objection ... is that religious freedom doesn't apply to family-owned corporations (or any corporations). Corporations are not people, the critics say. True, corporations are not people. They are groups—of people.
An Independent Judiciary, by Jim Powell, The Triumph of Liberty, 4 Jul 2000
Lengthy biographical essay of Edward Coke; first chapter of section 9, "Protecting Liberty"
Although Coke embraced conventional religious beliefs, he promoted religious toleration. As chief justice of common law courts, he worked to keep many cases out of ecclesiastical courts that sentenced religious dissenters to be tortured, imprisoned or burned ... Coke issued prohibitions to curb the power of ecclesiastical courts, especially the High Commission, which imprisoned individuals for preaching nonconformist doctrines. A prohibition ordered an ecclesiastical court not to proceed with a case if it might belong in a common law court.
Introductory, by John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, 1859
Chapter I; explains the subject of the essay, namely, "the nature and limits of the power which can be legitimately exercised by society over the individual"
The only case in which the higher ground has been taken on principle and maintained with consistency, ... is that of religious belief ... The great writers to whom the world owes what religious liberty it possesses, have mostly asserted freedom of conscience as an indefeasible right, and denied absolutely that a human being is accountable to others for his religious belief. Yet so natural to mankind is intolerance in whatever they really care about, that religious freedom has hardly anywhere been practically realized, except where religious indifference ... has added its weight to the scale.
John Lilburne: The First English Libertarian, by Peter Richards, 29 Mar 2008
Detailed biographical essay of "Freeborn John" concluding with reasons to use the modern term "libertarian" for him
[The initial Leveller meetings were] followed by the Whitehall Debates which began on December 14 [1648]. The second Agreement of the People (or Foundations of Freedom) was presented to the council of officers for consideration. There was much discussion and disagreement about religious toleration. The army grandees wanted to restrict toleration so that Jews, atheists, Unitarians, and Catholics were excluded. The Levellers, by contrast, were far in advance of their own era, because of their principled demand for a more inclusive toleration.
John Locke—Natural Rights to Life, Liberty, and Property, by Jim Powell, The Freeman, Aug 1996
Extensive biographical essay, including summaries of his major works
"The Magistrate," [Locke] declared [in Epistola de Tolerantia], "ought not to forbid the Preaching or Professing of any Speculative Opinions in any Church, because they have no manner of relation to the Civil Rights of the Subjects. If a Roman Catholick believe that to be really the Body of Christ, which another man calls Bread, he does no injury thereby to his Neighbour. If a Jew do not believe the New Testament to be the Word of God, he does not thereby alter any thing in mens Civil Rights. If a Heathen doubt of both Testaments, he is not therefore to be punished as a pernicious Citizen."
John Locke's Top 5 Radical Political Ideas, by Brandon Turner, 29 Aug 2016
Brief discussions of "five features of Locke's political thought that remain particularly important": natural equality, property, consent, resistance and toleration
Locke further developed his thoughts on the limits of government power in a subsequent exchange with church authorities on the topic of forced religious uniformity. In A Letter Concerning Toleration, published in 1689, Locke presents a number of arguments against forced religious conformity. Two of these are of particular interest: on the one hand, Locke argues that religious faith rests outside the purview of political society—that the religious beliefs of its citizens is not the business of government; on the other hand, he argues, political power refers to physical force, and true belief simply cannot be forced.
Related Topics: Government, John Locke, Property
A Lesson from Vietnam, Part 1, by Wendy McElroy, Freedom Daily, Jan 2004
Relates key events in Vietnam from the end of World War II and the establishment of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North) in 1945 to the forming of the Republic of Vietnam (South) in 1955
Against this backdrop, the South Vietnamese constitution was proclaimed on October 26, 1955. Although it borrowed from the American Constitution, it laid ... little emphasis on protecting individual rights ... For example ... Cambodians living in the Mekong Delta were prohibited from participating in various religious and cultural practices ... Diem also had conflicts with the non-Catholic majority of South Vietnam. The two most important religious groups opposing him were the Hoa Hao, a reform Buddhist sect, and the Cao Dai, who adhered to a combination of Confucianism, Buddhism, and Roman Catholicism.
Related Topics: Vietnam, Vietnam War
A Letter Concerning Toleration, by John Locke, 1689
Originally "Epistolia de Tolerentia", translated by William Popple
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 compell any one 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 it to the choice of any other, whether Prince or Subject, to prescribe to him what Faith or Worship he shall embrace.
Libertarians unite to elect Badnarik, by Ron Strom, WorldNetDaily, 14 Jul 2004
Presents quotes from a WorldNetDaily interview with Badnarik after his nomination, together with commentary on the 2004 presidential election
Badnarik refused to say what, if any, religion he ascribes to, citing Article VI of the Constitution, which says no religious test shall be given for political office. "If I were to answer that, that group of people would be more likely to support me, but others would be less likely to support me," he said. "I support the freedom of religion of all individuals ... so my personal beliefs are irrelevant to the debate."
Lord Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton (1834-1902), Religion & Liberty, Jan 1993
Biographical sketch, part of the series "In The Liberal Tradition"
Through his studies and his own experience, Acton was made acutely aware of the danger posed to individual conscience by any kind of religious or political persecution. ... Earlier, Lord Acton also acquired the Rambler, making it a liberal Catholic journal dedicated to the discussion of social, political, and theological issues and ideas. Through this activity and through his involvement in the first Vatican Council, Lord Acton became known as one of the most articulate defenders of religious and political freedom.
Related Topic: John Dalberg-Acton
Michiganistan?, by Leon Drolet, Liberty, Jun 2003
Why do some U.S. states join Islamic theocracies in having draconian laws against private, adult, consensual sex acts? ... When Jesus told the Pharisees to separate that belonging to God from that belonging to the state, he introduced for the first time the concept of a separation of the interests of religion and government.
Related Topic: Michigan
Milton, John (1608-1674), by Antony Flew, The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism, 15 Aug 2008
Biographical essay
Although in one sonnet Milton referred to the Lord Protector as 'our chief of men,' privately he grew concerned with the antirepublican implications of such a title, the more so as he saw Cromwell move to revive the House of Lords and, worse, reestablish a state-run, state-controlled Church of England. Thus, at Cromwell's death, Milton revised and republished his first defense of the Commonwealth and followed it with a new work emphasizing the importance of separating church and state, in the hope of seeing the nation return to a republican form of government.
Monopoly, Competition, and Educational Freedom, by Jacob G. Hornberger, Mar 2000
Discusses monopolies and competition in the religious, postal delivery and educational realms and criticizes a speech by Gary Becker about competition in religion and education
Historically, governments would favor an official, state-approved religion, support it with tax monies, and then prohibit or discourage, oftentimes brutally, other religions from competing. Becker pointed to the United States as an example of a place where this type of monopoly was prohibited, and he described the tremendous benefits that resulted from a competitive market in religion ... The solution ... was to completely separate church and state. That is, not only was a state monopoly in religion not permitted but also the state itself was prohibited from even competing in the area of religion.
The Morality of Drug Controls, by Thomas Szasz, Freedom Daily, Apr 1990
Condensed from an article in Dealing With Drugs: Consequences of Government Control, 1987, Ronad Hamowy (editor); compares freedom of speech and religion with freedom of self-medication
[O]ur society is therapeutic in much the same sense in which medieval Spanish society was theocratic ... [T]he men and women living in a theocratic society did not believe in the separation of church and state but, on the contrary, fervently embraced their union ... The First Amendment's protection of religious freedom exemplifies [the fundamental rights] posture: Americans are not expected to look to the government to provide them with those religious beliefs and organizations that are good for them, while protecting them against those that are bad for them.
Not Just Japanese Americans: The Untold Story of U.S. Repression During 'The Good War', by Jeffrey Rogers Hummel, The Journal of Historical Review, 1986
Detailed and well-annotated survey of United States government's repression of civil liberties during World War II, both before and after the attack on Pearl Harbor
According to the ACLU's annual report for 1940-41, "the most numerous attacks on civil liberties of any single minority were directed against the Jehovah's Witnesses." ... Their theology is extremely anti-Statist, and it even opposes flag salutes ... The Supreme Court defended the Witnesses' ... right to distribute religious literature without restrictions from local ordinances ... But in the 1940 Gobitis case, the Court held that children could legally be expelled from government schools for not saluting the flag ... A few attempts were made to take children from their Jehovah's Witness parents but were unsuccessful.
Religion and Freedom, by Robert Sirico, Freedom Daily, Dec 1993
Examines the premise that the state is justified as a means to promote or even coerce morality, the role of attaining liberty and the historical roots of "church and state"
In a fascinating study of the early relationship between church and state, Hugo Rahner ... makes the following observation ...: "... most frequently it has been the state which picked the quarrel with the Church, and as a result it was the Church that had to defend herself in a life and death struggle to maintain her freedom to fulfill her calling." Rahner goes on to observe that part of what led to the confusion ... was "the ancient Italic concept of the head of state as the 'supreme Priest,' 'king of the sacrifices,' ... [The Roman state] stubbornly insisted on treating religion as an exclusively political factor."
Related Topics: Ethics, Liberty, Rights
Religion and the Constitution, by Thomas Sowell, 28 Jun 2002
Discusses the implications of the decision by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in Newdow v. United States Congress challenging the constitutionality of the phrase "under God" to the Pledge of Allegiance (added in 1954)
The ostensible basis for the 9th Circuit decision is the Constitution of the United States. Contrary to what some may think, there is no mention of 'separation of church and state' in the Constitution, much less any 'wall of separation' that keeps getting mentioned, even in Supreme Court decisions. What the First Amendment to the Constitution says is that Congress shall make no law 'respecting an establishment of religion.' England had an established religion, supported by the taxpayers and with its members given privileges denied to members of other congregations.
Ricardo in Parliament, by Edwin Cannan, The Economic Journal, Jun 1894
Account of Ricardo's final years, as a Member of Parliament for Portarlington, discussing his actions and speeches on matters of general and economic policy; published in two parts (June and Sept. 1894 issues); quotes are from Hansard
'... [Ricardo] had made up his mind that prosecutions ought never to be instituted for religious opinions. All religious opinions, however absurd and extravagant, might be conscientiously believed by some ... Why, then, was one man to set up his ideas on the subject as the criterion from which no other was to be allowed to differ with impunity? Why was one man to be considered infallible, and all his fellow men as ... erring creatures? Such a doctrine ought not to be tolerated; it savoured too much of the Inquisition ... A fair and free discussion ought to be allowed on all religious topics ...'
The Rights of the Colonists: The Report of the Committee of Correspondence to the Boston Town Meeting, by Samuel Adams, 20 Nov 1772
First of three reports of the Massachusetts Comittee of Correspondence, authored by Adams, presented to a town meeting by James Otis and later republished by Benjamin Franklin
As neither reason requires nor religion permits the contrary, every man living in or out of a state of civil society has a right peaceably and quietly to worship God according to the dictates of his conscience. 'Just and true liberty, equal and impartial liberty,' in matters spiritual and temporal, is a thing that all men are clearly entitled to by the eternal and immutable laws of God and nature, as well as by the law of nations and all well-grounded municipal laws, which must have their foundation in the former.
Related Topics: John Locke, Magna Carta, Rights
Should Government Run Churches ... or Schools?, by Scott McPherson, 27 Dec 2002
A Tribute to Edmund A. Opitz, by Robert Sirico, The Freeman, Oct 1993
Remarks made at the dinner in honor of Opitz' retirement from the Foundation for Economic Education, on 13 Dec 1992
The image to which I refer is of an elderly Jewish lady ... One summer day when Mrs. Snyder, in a short-sleeved calico dress, filled my hands with a napkin overflowing with her treasures, I noticed something on her forearm. I didn't say anything ..., but when I climbed back into my kitchen, I asked my mother why Mrs. Snyder had numbers on her arm. My mother explained, as best she could to one so young, that because of their religion Mr. and Mrs. Snyder had been treated like animals and branded. That remembrance of the attempt to use force over the human conscience stays with me to this day.
Washington, George (1732-1799), by Jonathan Rowe, The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism, 15 Aug 2008
Biographical essay
Enlightenment writers also contributed to Washington's belief that men of all religions—Christian or non-Christian, orthodox or heterodox—should possess full and equal rights ... As Washington wrote on January 27, 1793, to the New Church in Baltimore, whose founder, Emanuel Swedenborg, taught novel doctrines not in accord with prevailing Christian orthodoxy: 'We have abundant reason to rejoice that in this land the light of truth and reason has triumphed over the power of bigotry and superstition and that every person may here worship God according to the dictates of his own heart. ...'
We Can Oppose Bigotry without the Politicians, by Sheldon Richman, The Goal Is Freedom, 28 Feb 2014
Explains why the state (as in the case of Arizona's Senate Bill 1062) is not necessary to ensure that people or businesses don't discriminate against others on the basis of sexual orientation or other reasons
The Arizona legislature passed—and now the governor has vetoed—a bill that would have amended the state's Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which holds that even a seemingly religiously neutral law may not "substantially burden" the exercise of religion in the absence of a "compelling government interest" and a less-restrictive method of advancing that interest. SB 1062 was reportedly prompted by a New Mexico Supreme Court ruling in the case of a commercial photographer who, apparently on religious grounds, refused to take pictures at a same-sex civil-commitment ceremony.
W(h)ither Public Schools?, by Sheldon Richman, Separating School & State, 1994
Chapter 1, made available online on 19 May 2004 to celebrate the tenth publication anniversary; discusses how even mild "public school" reforms are treated as "deadly threats", why a new vision is needed and the role of the family in educating children
Americans do not appreciate it, but the nations of Europe once had a similar battle over the state church. Horrible sectarian wars were fought between people who felt that unless they imposed their religion on others, the others would impose theirs on them. Then, when civil strife had reached its peak, someone got a great idea: the separation of church and state. Let people choose and finance their own religion and leave government—that is, force—out of it. That idea culminated in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution ... Today, almost no one in the United States wants a national religion.

Cartoons and Comic Strips

Tonight's Debate: Should Religion Play a Bigger Role in U.S. Government?, by Tom Toles, The Washington Post, 30 Aug 2004
An Unholy Union, by Ann Telnaes, 24 May 2004

The introductory paragraph uses material from the Wikipedia article "Freedom of religion" as of 4 Nov 2018, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.