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. ..."

Web Sites

Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty
Publishes Religion & Liberty bi-monthly journal
Americans United for Separation of Church and State
Publishes Church & State monthly journal
First Amendment Center: Religious Liberty
Religion & Belief | American Civil Liberties Union


A Lesson from Vietnam, Part 1, by Wendy McElroy, Future of Freedom, 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."
An Arrow against all Tyrants, by Richard Overton, 12 Oct 1646
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"
"And (sir) the 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 ... it seems these cruel minded men to their brethren, have ... procured a most Romish inquisition ordinance to obtain an admission into the House ... you 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."
An Independent Judiciary: Edward Coke, by Jim Powell, The Triumph of Liberty, 4 Jul 2000
Lengthy biographical essay
"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 which 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."
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
"... the clergy wanted the king 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 even if nobody seriously contemplated a murderous Inquisition. '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 ...'"
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 to her, 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."
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, as previously mentioned, 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.'"
Don't Fund Religious Groups, by Sheldon Richman, Jun 2001
Argues against President George W. Bush's proposal to give taxpayers' money to religious organizations
"He heaps high praise on those groups. But has it occurred to him that their success may have something to do to with their distance from government? Yet he proposes to close that distance. We already know what happens when private groups get too close to government. They lose their autonomy. ... Moreover, 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."
Dump the Contraception Mandate and All the Rest, by Sheldon Richman, 3 Jan 2014
Questions advocates of mandating employers to pay for "insurance" coverage of contraceptives
"It is the government's decree — not the employers who object to it — 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."
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."
Introductory, by John Stuart Mill, On Liberty, 1859
Chapter I
"The only case in which the higher ground has been taken on principle and maintained with consistency, by any but an individual here and there, 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 ..."
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
"This was followed by the Whitehall Debates which began on December 14. 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
"Limborch published Locke's Epistola de Tolerantia in Gouda, Holland, in May 1689—Locke wrote in Latin presumably to reach a European audience. ... 'The Magistrate,' he declared, '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 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 discussion of "five features of Locke's political thought that remain particularly important": natural equality, property, consent, resistance and toleration
"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
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."
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, Future of Freedom, 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 , 1894
Account of Ricardo's final years, as a Member of Parliament for the borough of Portarlington, discussing his actions and speeches on matters of general and economic policy
"... he had made up his mind 'that prosecutions ought never- to be instituted for religions opinions. All religious opinions, however absurd and, extravagant, might be conscientiously believed by some individuals. 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 frail and 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. ...'"
Should Government Run Churches ... or Schools?, by Scott McPherson, 27 Dec 2002
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."
The Morality of Drug Controls, by Thomas Szasz, Future of Freedom, Apr 1990
Condensed from an article in Dealing With Drugs: Consequences of Government Control, 1987, Ronad Hamowy (editor)
"The answer to these questions lies basically in the fact that our society is therapeutic in much the same sense in which medieval Spanish society was theocratic. ... the 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 this 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."
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
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. ...'"
W(h)ither Public Schools?, by Sheldon Richman, Separating School & State, 1994
Chapter 1, made available online on tenth anniversary of the book's publication; 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

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