Right/Freedom of Religion/History

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Freedom of Religion


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What is the oldest source in any country that mentions this right? 🖉 edit

The Edict of Toleration by Galerius in April of 311 ended Christian persecutions and granted their right to exist (Keresztes, "From the Great Persecution to the Peace of Galerius," 390). This preceded the Edict of Milan by two years, which permanently declared religious toleration and protection for Christians within the Roman Empire (Britannica, "Edict of Milan").

References:

Britannica, T. Editors of Encyclopaedia. "Edict of Milan." Encyclopedia Britannica, August 8, 2019. https://www.britannica.com/topic/Edict-of-Milan.

Keresztes, Paul. “From the Great Persecution to the Peace of Galerius.” Vigiliae Christianae 37, no. 4 (1983): 379–99. https://doi.org/10.2307/1583547.


What historical forces or events, if any, contributed to a widespread belief in its importance? 🖉 edit

Widespread belief in the importance of religious freedom within a liberal democratic society developed over centuries of religious separation, conflict, discourse. Over the past five hundred years Western civilization has transitioned from a uniformly Christian bloc of nations into a set of states defined by religious diversity and built upon the principles of toleration and religious freedom. Three major forces drove that transformation: The violence caused by religious intolerance, the increasing value of free thought, and the success of religiously free states. Over time, all three of these historical forces led to the widespread belief in the importance of religious freedom within western society.

The first historical force that led to the original identification of religious freedom as a valuable right was the horror and devastation that Europe witnessed during the Reformation era as a result of religious conflicts. The widespread destruction that took place during such conflicts as the Schmalkaldic Wars, the French Wars of Religion, and the English Civil War showed Europeans how difficult it would be to preserve religious unity within their borders, which led some to question the value of religious homogeneity. The Thirty Years War, especially, led to the identification of religious tolerance as an alternative to the religiously-motivated violence when it concluded with the landmark Peace of Westphalia. Voltaire’s assessment that “Germany would be a desert strewn with the bones of Catholics, Protestants, and Anabaptists, slain by each other, if the Peace of Westphalia had not at length brought freedom of conscience” reveals how important the war, and the treaty that ended it, really were to the identification of religious freedom as an important civil right (Voltaire, “Toleration and Other Essays - Online Library of Liberty”). Historian Gordon Christenson similarly notes that the principle of religious tolerance had been included in previous Reformation-era treaties, but the Peace of Westphalia’s explicit use of the principle as a peacekeeping measure reveals that it had broken into mainstream political thought by the end of the war (Christenson, “Liberty of the Exercise of Religion in the Peace of Westphalia”)

As the dust settled after years of religious conflict, a second historical force also contributed to the widespread belief in the right of religious freedom. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Enlightenment thinkers reflected upon the Reformation wars and the state of European politics, and began to advocate for the freedom of thought and faith within political society. In 1669 Spinoza concluded that “a government would be most harsh which deprived the individual of his freedom of saying and teaching what he thought; and would be moderate if such freedom were granted” (Spinoza, “The Chief Works of Benedict De Spinoza,” 195), Two decades later, Locke came to a similar conclusion when his “Letter Concerning Toleration” specifically outlined the principle of religious toleration by asserting that “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” (Locke, “A Letter Concerning Toleration,”). Though the identification of religious freedom as a fundamental right did not immediately lead to its universal adoption among western states, it did represent a significant advancement in the field of religious rights. Going forward, rulers and state builders were more conscious of religious toleration as a viable alternative to forcing religious uniformity within their borders. About a century later, this Locke sentiment was directly incorporated into the American Bill of Rights, which prohibits the creation of any law that might restrict the free practice of religion.

Over time the ideas of toleration and the freedom of thought became more widespread, which led a number of states to explore religious freedom as a principle upon which strong nations could be built. Among the first political leaders to embrace the principle of religious freedom was Roger Williams, who founded the English colony of Rhode Island after he was banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony. As the colony grew over the next several years, he drafted a compact under which it could be governed. Smithsonian Magazine writes that “the most significant element was what the compact did not say. It did not propose to build a model of God’s kingdom on earth, as did Massachusetts...the compact did not even ask God’s blessing. It made no mention of God at all” (Smithsonian Institution, “God, Government and Roger Williams' Big Idea,”). Shortly afterward Williams traveled to England in order to secure a charter from an English Parliament that was itself in the midst of a Civil War. The charter was granted, and the committee that granted it “left all decisions about religion to the “greater Part”—the majority—knowing the majority would keep the state out of matters of worship. Soul liberty now had official sanction” (Smithsonian Institution, “God, Government and Roger Williams' Big Idea,”). The establishment of the Rhode island colony greatly benefitted the growing belief in religious freedom as a fundamental right because it proved that a political society defined by toleration could find success despite the lack of uniform religion. This idea heavily influenced the drafting of the United States Constitution, and over the next two centuries freedom of religion came to be a defining feature for liberal democracies.

Over the past five centuries, western civilization underwent a number of historical changes that led it to lose faith in the benefits of religious homogeneity and instead come to support freedom of belief and universal toleration. As it slowly began to understand the dangers of promoting state-led religious uniformity, the western world began to explore ideas of plurality and acceptance before eventually embracing them in political entities such as Rhode Island and the United States. Modern democracies still struggle to guarantee the right to freedom of religion at times, but after five hundred years of development western society at least recognizes it as a fundamental human right.

References:

John M. Barry, “God, Government and Roger Williams’ Big Idea,” Jan. 2012, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/god-government-and-roger-williams-big-idea-6291280

Gordon A. Christenson, “Liberty of the Exercise of Religion in the Peace of Westphalia,” Transnational Law & Contemporary Problems, Vol. 21, 2012).

Locke, “Letter Concerning Toleration”

Spinoza, The Chief Works of Benedict De Spinoza

Voltaire, Voltaire. Toleration and Other Essays. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1755. https://oll.libertyfund.org/title/mccabe-toleration-and-other-essays.

What is the oldest written source in this country that mentions this right?

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Afghanistan 🖉 edit

According to Article two of the 1964 Constitution of Afghanistan: "Islam is the sacred religion of Afghanistan. Religious rites performed by the State shall be according to the provisions of the Hanafi doctrine. Non-Muslim citizens shall be free to perform their rituals within the limits determined by laws for public decency and public peace."

References:

https://www.constituteproject.org/constitution/Afghanistan_1964

Albania 🖉 edit

According to the 1928 Fundamental Statute of the Kingdom of Albania: "The Albanian State has no official religion. All religions and creeds are respected, and freedom of worship and religious observances is guaranteed."

The current Albanian constitution guarantees religious freedom in Article 10. The Constitution of the Republic of Albania was passed on November 28th, 1998.

References:

1928 Fundamental Statute of the Kingdom of Albania: https://www.hoelseth.com/royalty/albania/albconst19281201.html

1998 Albania Constitution: https://www.constituteproject.org/constitution/Albania_2012

Algeria 🖉 edit

Freedom of religion was first guaranteed in the Algerian Constitution of 1963. Article 4 of the document guarantees this right, while also stating that Islam is the state religion.

References:

“The Algerian Constitution.” The Middle East journal 17, no. 4 (1963): 446–450.

“Constitution of Algeria.” World Constitutions Illustrated, Heinonline. Accessed July 19, 2023. https://heinonline.org/HOL/P?h=hein.cow/zzdz0026&i=1

Andorra 🖉 edit

Andorra’s 1993 Constitution is the first document in the country’s history to define freedom of religion. Article 6 protect one’s freedom from religious discrimination, while article 11 protects ones right to religious expression.

“Andorra 1993.” Constitute. Accessed July 19, 2023. https://www.constituteproject.org/constitution/Andorra_1993

Angola 🖉 edit

Freedom of religion was first protected by Article 7 of Angola’s 1975 Interim Constitution. It was later replaced by the Constitution of 1992, which also guaranteed the right. Article 10 of Angola’s 2010 constitution declares the country a secular state. Article 23 declares it illegal to discriminate based on religious affiliation. The constitution was ratified on January 21st, 2010.

References:

1975 Angola Constitution: “The Constitution of the People’s Republic of Angola.” World Constitutions Illustrated, Heinonline. https://heinonline.org/HOL/P?h=hein.journals/rsl2&i=197

1992 Angola Constitution: https://constitutionnet.org/sites/default/files/Angola%20Constitution.pdf

2010 Angola Constitution: https://www.constituteproject.org/constitution/Angola_2010

Antigua and Barbuda 🖉 edit

Antigua and Barbuda’s 1981 Constitution contains the first assertion of freedom of religion in the country’s independent history. Article 11 specifically outlines this right.

References:

1981 Antigua and Barbuda Constitution: “The Republic of Antigua and Barbuda Constitutional Order 1981.” Political Database of the Americas. Accessed July 19, 2023. https://pdba.georgetown.edu/Constitutions/Antigua/antigua-barbuda.html

Argentina 🖉 edit

Though not explicitly focused on religious freedom, the 1826 Argentina Constitution seems oriented in Article 162 to elements of freedom of belief as a general matter: "The private actions of Men, which do not in any manner offend publick order, nor injure a third Person, belong alone to God, and are exempt from the authority of the Magistracy." A few decades later, according to Juan G. Navarro Floria, the Constitutional language was more direct: "Setting aside the drafts of prior constitutional charters, the authors of Argentina’s 1853 Constitution emphatically proclaimed religious freedom for '[a]ll inhabitants'.” (Floria, 342) The Constitution establishes freedom of religion, but also gives "preferential legal status" to the Roman Catholic Church (U.S. Department of State, "ARGENTINA 2018 INTERNATIONAL RELIGIOUS FREEDOM REPORT").

References:

Constitution of the Argentine Republic, 1826, English translation of the original Constitution of 1826. 956 (2010) Section VIII: General Regulations: https://heinonline-org.proxygw.wrlc.org/HOL/Page?handle=hein.cow/zzar0004&id=15&collection=cow&index=

Juan G. Navarro Floria, Religious Freedom in the Argentine Republic: Twenty Years After the Declaration on the Elimination of Intolerance and Religious Discrimination, 2002 BYU L. Rev. 341 (2002). Available at: https://digitalcommons.law.byu.edu/lawreview/vol2002/iss2/8

"ARGENTINA 2018 INTERNATIONAL RELIGIOUS FREEDOM REPORT": https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/ARGENTINA-2018-INTERNATIONAL-RELIGIOUS-FREEDOM-REPORT.pdf

Armenia 🖉 edit

The 1990 Declaration of Independence of Armenia guaranteed freedom of conscience. The 1995 Constitution of Armenia contains a more detailed assertion of freedom of religion in Article 23: "Everyone is entitled to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion. The freedom to exercise one's religion and beliefs may only be restricted by law on the grounds prescribed in Article 45 of the Constitution. Amendment of the 1995 Armenia Constitution in 2005 resulted in still more specific articulation of the right: "Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right includes freedom to change the religion or belief and freedom to, either alone or in community with others manifest the religion or belief, through preaching, church ceremonies and other religious rites." In addition to this articulation of the protection of belief and protection, Article 8.1 of the Armenia Constitution as amended in 2005 "recognizes the exclusive historical mission of the Armenian Apostolic Holy Church as a national church", but also asserts the separation of church and state in Armenia. The same article also guarantees that: "Freedom of activities for all religious organizations in accordance with the law shall be guaranteed in the Republic of Armenia".

References:

Armenian Declaration of Independence: https://www.gov.am/en/independence/

"Constitution of the Republic of Armenia" (1995): http://www.parliament.am/legislation.php?sel=show&ID=2425&lang=eng

"Constitution of the Republic of Armenia (with the Amendments of 27 November 2005)": http://www.parliament.am/legislation.php?sel=show&ID=1&lang=eng

Australia 🖉 edit

In accordance with English Common Law, Australia’s Constitution does not clearly guarantee freedom of religion. However, Article 116 of the document orders the “Commonwealth not to legislate in respect of religion.” Additionally, multiple Australian states have adopted laws and constitutions protecting the right.

References:

“The Australian Constitution.” Parliament of Australia. Accessed July 19, 2023. https://www.aph.gov.au/constitution

“2021 Report on International Religious Freedom: Australia.” U.S. Department of State. Accessed July 19, 2023. https://www.state.gov/reports/2021-report-on-international-religious-freedom/australia/#:~:text=In%20Queensland%2C%20Victoria%2C%20and%20the,the%20grounds%20of%20religious%20belief.

Austria 🖉 edit

The current Austrian state has maintained the Basic Law on the General Rights of Nationals of 1867, drafted during the Habsburg Empire. This makes Article 14 of the document the first assertion of freedom of religion in the country’s modern history. However, deeper legal foundations for this right can be found in the Patents of Tolerance of 1781/82.

The Constitution of Austria was ratified on October 1, 1920 and reinstated on May 1, 1945. Article 7 bans discrimination, including on the basis of religion.

References:

English original text of the Federal Constitutional Law of 1920 883 (2010), "First Principal Article: General Provisions ," Constitution of the Republic of Austria. - October 1, 1920 : 883-890

“Austria’s Religious Landscape.” Austria Embassy Washington. Accessed July 19, 2023. https://www.austria.org/religion#:~:text=EXPRESSIONS%20OF%20THE%20BASIC%20RIGHT%20OF%20RELIGIOUS%20FREEDOM&text=According%20to%20Austrian%20law%20(Law,choose%20his%20or%20her%20religion.

Azerbaijan 🖉 edit

Azerbaijan’s Constitution of 1995 contains the first assertion of freedom of religion in the country’s post-Soviet history. In Article 18 all religion is declared equal under the law and Article 25, Article 48, Article 71(4) ban legal discrimination based on religion and grant religious protections. Articles 85 and 89 ban ministers of religion from holding power in the the Milli Majlis or Azerbaijan National Assembly.

References:

https://constitutionnet.org/sites/default/files/Azerbaijan%20Constitution.pdf

Blaustein, Albert P., and Gisbert H. Flanz. Constitutions of the Countries of the World; a Series of Updated Texts, Constitutional Chronologies and Annotated Bibliographies. "Azerbaijan Republic, Booklet 2, 1996" Permanent ed. Dobbs Ferry, N.Y: Oceana Publications, 1971.

Bahrain 🖉 edit

The Bahrain Constitution of 1973 contains the first assertion of religious freedom in the country’s independent history. Article 22 articulates this right as follows: "Freedom of conscience is absolute. The State shall guarantee the inviolability of places of worship and the freedom to perform religious rites and to hold religious processions and meetings in accordance with the customs observed in the country." The 2002 Bahrain Constitution with amendments through 2017 also protects freedom of religion, Article 18 protects against discrimination based on religion. Article 22 protects freedom of religious thought, stating: "Freedom of conscience is absolute. The State guarantees the inviolability of worship, and the freedom to perform religious rites and hold religious parades and meetings in accordance with the customs observed in the country." It is noteworthy that Article 2 states Islam is the official religion and legislation is guided by Islamic Shari’a.

References:

“Bahrain Old Constitution (1973).” International Constitutional Law Project. Accessed July 20, 2023. https://www.servat.unibe.ch/icl/ba01000_.html

Bahrain 2002 (Rev. 2017) Constitution.” Constitute:. https://www.constituteproject.org/constitution/Bahrain_2017?lang=en.

Bangladesh 🖉 edit

Article 41 of the 1972 Bangladesh Constitution states that: "(1) Subject to law, public order and morality- (a) every citizen has the right to profess, practice or propagate any religion; (b) every religious community or denomination has the right to establish, maintain and manage its religious institutions. (2) No person attending any educational institution shall be required to receive religious instruction, or to take part in or to attend any religious ceremony or worship, if that instruc- tion, ceremony or worship relates to a religion other than his own.."

References:

http://hrlibrary.umn.edu/research/bangladesh-constitution.pdf

Barbados 🖉 edit

Barbados’s Constitution of 1966 was the first document to protect freedom of religion in the country’s independent history. The preamble states the country was "founded upon principles that acknowledge the supremacy of God" among other principles. Article 19 grants religious freedoms and protections: "Except with his own consent, no person shall be hindered in the enjoyment of his freedom of conscience and for the purpose of this section the said freedom includes freedom of thought and of religion, freedom to change his religion or belief and freedom, either alone or in community with others, and both in public and in private, to manifest and propagate his religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance."

References:

https://pdba.georgetown.edu/Constitutions/Barbados/barbados66.html

Belarus 🖉 edit

The Belarus Constitution of 1994 contains the first assertion of freedom of religion in the country’s post-Soviet history. Articles 14, 16, and 31 grant religious freedom and protections. Article 5 bans activities of political parties and public associations with the aim of religious hatred.

References:

1994 Constitution of the Republic of Belarus: https://heinonline-org.proxygw.wrlc.org/HOL/Page?collection=cow&handle=hein.cow/zzby0006&id=4&men_tab=srchresults

1994 Constitution of the Republic of Belarus as amended in 1996: https://www.venice.coe.int/webforms/documents/?pdf=CDL(2003)065-e

Belgium 🖉 edit

Articles 20 and 21 of the 27 October 1830 Draft Constitution of Belgium described protection of freedom of religion. Article 20 protected freedom of opinion, and Article 21 stated that "The public exercise of a belief [culte] may not be impeded except by virtue of a law, and only in the case in which it troubles the public order and tranquility."

Articles 14-16 of Belgium’s 1831 Constitution codified protections of freedom of religion. However, Article 14 outlines legal limits to this freedom: “The freedom of religions, their public exercise, as well as the liberty of expressing their opinions on every matter, are guaranteed; reserving the right of repressing crimes committed in the exercise of these liberties.”

References:

English translation of the French text of the draft of the constitution of 27 October 1830 35 (2009): https://heinonline-org.proxygw.wrlc.org/HOL/Page?collection=cow&handle=hein.cow/zzbe0096&id=5&men_tab=srchresults

1831 Constitution of Belgium: https://www.constituteproject.org/constitution/Belgium_1831

Belize 🖉 edit

Freedom of religion was first guaranteed in Belize by its Constitution of 1981. Articles 3 and 11 protect religious freedom and equality. Preamble claims the supremacy of God.

References:

1981 Constitution of Belize: https://pdba.georgetown.edu/Constitutions/Belize/belize81.html

Benin 🖉 edit

Article 2 of the 15 February 1959 Constitution of the Republic of Dahomey guaranteed freedom of religion, conditioned by respect for public order.

Under the 1990 Constitution of Benin, Articles 23 and 26 offer freedom of religion and prohibit religious discrimination under the law. Articles 2 and 5 define Benin as a secular state.

References:

"Of the State and of Sovereignty," Republique du Dahomey, Constitution du 15 fevrier 1959 (1959): 57-57: https://heinonline-org.proxygw.wrlc.org/HOL/Page?handle=hein.cow/zzbj0032&id=3&collection=cow&index=#

1990 Constitution of the Republic of Benin:

https://constitutionnet.org/sites/default/files/Benin%20Constitution%20-%20English%20Summary.pdf

Bhutan 🖉 edit

According to Article 7.4 of the 2008 Constitution of the Kingdom of Bhutan, "A Bhutanese citizen shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. No person shall be compelled to belong to another faith by means of coercion or inducement."

References:

2008 Constitution of the Kingdom of Bhutan: "Article 7: Fundamental Rights," Constitution of the Kingdom of Bhutan, 2008, 14: https://heinonline-org.proxygw.wrlc.org/HOL/Page collection=cow&handle=hein.cow/zzbt0002&id=22&men_tab=srchresults

Bolivia 🖉 edit

Freedom of conscience is recognized in Title II of Bolivia’s 1826 Constitution, which also states that the country’s religion is Catholicism: "The Catholic Apostolic Roman Religion is that of the Republic, to the exclusion of every other. The Government will protect it, and cause it to be respected; recognizing the principle of freedom of conscience."

Article 3 of the 1851 Constitution of the Bolivian Republic also addressed questions of conscience and exercise: "The Apostolic Roman Catholic religion is the religion of Bolivia. The law protects and guarantees its exclusive worship, and prohibits the exercise of any other; nevertheless acknowledging the principle that there is no human power over consciences."

Articles 4, 14, 21, 86, and 104 of the 2009 Constitution protect religious freedom and prohibit religious discrimination. Article 4 says that Bolivia is a secular state.

References:

1826 Constitution of Bolivia: English translation of the original Constitution of 1826 6 (2010) Title II: Of Religion. https://heinonline.org/HOL/P?h=hein.cow/zzbo0003&i=1

1851 Political Constitution of the Bolivian Republic: English translation of the original Constitution of 1851. 1149 (2010) The Public Rights of the Bolivians https://heinonline-org.proxygw.wrlc.org/HOL/Page?collection=cow&handle=hein.cow/zzbo0007&id=1&men_tab=srchresults

“Bolivia (Plurinational Republic of) 2009.” Constitute. https://www.constituteproject.org/constitution/Bolivia_2009

Bosnia and Herzegovina 🖉 edit

In the aftermath of the annexation of Bosnia and Herzegovina by the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Imperial Government wrote a constitution for Bosnia and Herzegovina. The relationship between the two political entities was described in Section 1 of the 1910 Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina: "Bosnia and the Herzegovina constitute a separate and homogeneous administrative territory, which, in conformity with the Law of the 22nd February, 1880 ... is subject to the responsible administration and control of the Imperial and Royal Joint Ministry." According to Section 8 of the 1910 Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina, "Liberty of conscience and faith are guaranteed. No one can be persecuted on account of his religious convictions, nor can his rights be restricted because of them. The exercise of domestic worship is secured to every person, and the exercise of public worship is assured to all recognized religious associations as far as such public worship does not run counter to public considerations. The religious sects recognized at present are the following (1.) Mohammedan. (2.) Servian Orthodox. (3.) Roman Catholic and Greek Catholic. (4.) Evangelical of Augsburg and Helvetian Confession. (5.) Jewish. The enjoyment of civic and political rights is wholly independent of religious convictions, but these latter must not interfere with the due performance of civic duties."

The Bosnia and Herzegovina Constitution of 1995 contains the first assertion of freedom of religion in the country’s independent history. Articles 1.7(b), 2.3(g), and 2.4 protect religious freedoms and equality and prohibit religious discrimination.

References:

1910 Constitution of Bosnia and Herzegovina: British and Foreign State Papers (1912) https://heinonline-org.proxygw.wrlc.org/HOL/Page?collection=cow&handle=hein.cow/bfsprs0105&id=549&men_tab=srchresults#

“Bosnia and Herzegovina 1995 (rev. 2009).” Constitute. Accessed July 20, 2023. https://www.constituteproject.org/constitution/Bosnia_Herzegovina_2009

Botswana 🖉 edit

According to Article 11 of the 1966 Botswana Constitution: "(1) Except with his or her own consent, no person shall be hindered in the enjoyment of his or her freedom of conscience, and for the purposes of this section the said freedom includes freedom of thought and of religion, freedom to change his or her religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others, and both in public and in private, to manifest and propagate his or her religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance. (2) Every religious community shall be entitled, at its own expense, to establish and maintain places of education and to manage any place of education which it wholly maintains; and no such community shall be prevented from providing religious instruction for persons of that community in the course of any education provided at any place of education which it wholly maintains or in the course of any education which it otherwise provides. (3) Except with his or her own consent (or, if he or she is a minor, the consent of his or her guardian) no person attending any place of education shall be required to receive religious instruction or to take part in or attend any religious ceremony or observance if that instruction, ceremony or observance relates to a religion other than his or her own. (4) No person shall be compelled to take any oath which is contrary to his or her religion or belief or to take any oath in a manner which is contrary to his or her religion or belief. (5) Nothing contained in or done under the authority of any law shall be held to be inconsistent with or in contravention of this section to the extent that the law in question makes provision which is reasonably required— (a) in the interests of defence, public safety, public order, public morality or public health; or (b) for the purpose of protecting the rights and freedoms of other persons, including the right to observe and practise any religion without the unsolicited intervention of members of any other religion, and except so far as that provision or, as the case may be, the thing done under the authority thereof is shown not to be reasonably justifiable in a democratic society."

References:

1966 Constitution of Botswana: https://botswanalaws.com/consolidated-statutes/constitution-of-botswana

Brazil 🖉 edit

According to Article 179.5 of the 1824 Political Constitution of the Empire of Brazil, "No one may be persecuted by reason of religion, so long as he respects that of the state and does not offend public morals."

The 1890 Constitution guaranteed free exercise: "All individuals and religious denominations may publicly and freely exercise their worship, associating themselves for this purpose, and acquiring property within the limits prescribed by the law of mortmain." In a number of ways the 1890 Constitution asserted separation of church and state, including emphasis on the secular character of public instruction and cemeteries, the civil character of marriage recognized by the state, and a ban on official subsidies or other relationships between religious groups and federal or state governments. The 22 June 1890 Constitution also barred Jesuits from Brazil, though as Thomas Skidmore describes this ban was lifted before the Constitution came into effect: "The initial draft of the Constitution of 1891, for example, contained a clause which would have again banned the order from Brazil. The provision was removed by the Constituent Assembly, which nonetheless endorsed a proposed prohibition of any new convents or monastic orders."

The final version of the 1891 Constitution offered a briefer description of freedom of religion in Article 179, Section V: "No one can be persecuted on account of his religion so long as he respects that of the state and does not offend public morals." Even so, the 1891 Constitution established an official religion in Article 5: "The Apostolic Roman Catholic religion shall continue to be the religion of the Empire. All other religions shall be permitted with their domestic or private worship in buildings destined therefor, but without any exterior form of a temple."

References:

"Title VIII: General Provisions and Guarantees of the Civil and Political Rights of Brazilian Citizens," Constitution of the Empire of Brazil, 1824 : 250: https://heinonline-org.proxygw.wrlc.org/HOL/Page?collection=cow&handle=hein.cow/zzbr0040&id=14&men_tab=srchresults

English translation of the Portuguese original text of the Constitution of 22 June 1890 23 (2013) Section II: Declaration of Rights : https://heinonline-org.proxygw.wrlc.org/HOL/Page?handle=hein.cow/zzbr0396&id=23&collection=cow&index=

English translation of the original Constitution of 1891. [8] (2013) Title II: Of Brazilian Citizens; Title VIII: Of the General Dispositions and Guarantees of the Civil and Political Rights of Brazilian Citizens, Constitution of the Empire of Brazil (1891): [8]; [29]: https://heinonline-org.proxygw.wrlc.org/HOL/Page?collection=cow&handle=hein.cow/zzbr0153&id=30&men_tab=srchresults#

Skidmore, Thomas E. “Eduardo Prado: A Conservative Nationalist Critic of the Early Brazilian Republic, 1889-1901.” Luso-Brazilian Review 12, no. 2 (1975): 154. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3512939.

Brunei 🖉 edit

The Constitution of Brunei Declares the Shafi’i school of Sunni Islam (Shafeite sect) the Official religion of the country, Part IX 84.1 states that all no person shall be appointed to any office not professing the Islamic religion. However, Part II, Article 3, Section 1 states, “all other religions may be practiced in peace and harmony by the persons professing them.” This Assertion is first seen in the 1959 Constitution of Brunei Darussalam.

References:

CIA World Factbook. Brunei. https://www.cia.gov/the-world-factbook/countries/brunei/#government

U.S. Department of State 2022 Report on International Religious Freedom: Brunei https://www.state.gov/reports/2022-report-on-international-religious-freedom/brunei

International Commission of Jurists. Constitution of Brunei Darussalam 1959. https://www.icj.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/Brunei-Constitution-1959-eng.pdf

Bulgaria 🖉 edit

Article 37 of the 1879 Constitution of Bulgaria established "the Orthodox Eastern Confession" as the official religion. However, Article 40 of the 1879 Constitution offered broad freedom to express religious faith: "Christians of other than the Orthodox faith, and those professing any other religion whatever, whether Bulgarian-born subjects or naturalized, as well as foreigners permanently or temporarily domiciled in Bulgaria, have full liberty to profess their religion, unless the performance of their rites violates common law." In line with the last clause of Article 40, Article 41 denied the assertion of religious freedom as a reason to except oneself from general laws: "No one can, under pretext of religious scruples, exempt himself from conformity with the general laws which are binding on all in common."

Article 78 of the 1947 Constitution of the People's Republic of Bulgaria more broadly promised religious liberty: "Citizens are guaranteed freedom of conscience and religion, and of performing religious rites. The Church is separate from the State."

The Constitution of the Republic of Bulgaria was ratified on 12 July 1991. Articles 6.2, 11.4, 13, 37, and 44.2 grant religious protections and freedoms.

References:

1879 Constitution of the Principality of Bulgaria: English translation of the Bulgarian original text of the Constitution of 1879 6 (2014) Chapter IX: Religion: https://heinonline-org.proxygw.wrlc.org/HOL/Page?collection=cow&handle=hein.cow/zzbg0031&id=8&men_tab=srchresults

1947 Constitution of the People's Republic of Bulgaria: "Chapter VIII: Basic Rights and Obligations of Citizens," Constitution of the People's Republic of Bulgaria : 241-244 https://heinonline-org.proxygw.wrlc.org/HOL/Page?handle=hein.cow/zzbg0007&id=9&collection=cow&index=

1991 Constitution of Bulgaria: https://www.parliament.bg/en/const

Burkina Faso 🖉 edit

Article 14 of the 1970 Constitution of Upper Volta reads: "Freedom of religious belief, profession and practise, subject to the maintenance of public order, shall be guaranteed to all by the Constitution."

Under Chapter I, Article 7, Freedom of Religion is asserted in the 1991 Constitution of Burkina Faso. This article also specifies that respect for the law, public order, good morals, and the human person must be upheld with free practice. Equality regardless of religion is also guaranteed under Article I.

References:

1970 Constitution of Upper Volta: "Title II: Fundamental Rights and Duties of Man and the Citizen," Constitution of Upper Volta (1970): 1006-1008 https://heinonline-org.proxygw.wrlc.org/HOL/Page?collection=cow&handle=hein.cow/zzbf0015&id=3&men_tab=srchresults

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Constitution of Burkina Faso. 1991. https://faolex.fao.org/docs/pdf/bkf128139E.pdf

Burundi 🖉 edit

Freedom of religion was asserted in the 1962 Constitution of the Kingdom of Burundi. Burundi became independent in 1962 from the Belgium administration. Article 13, under Title II, covers freedom of worship.

References:

Constitution of Burundi. 1962. https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/a5/Constitution_du_Burundi_de_1962.pdf

Cambodia 🖉 edit

The 1947 Constitution of Cambodia declares Buddhism as the religion of the state. However, It asserts under Article 8 that, “Liberty of conscience is absolute. So is that of worshiping…” but limits this liberty of worship by articulating that it “suffers no other restrictions than those made necessary by the maintenance of Public order.”

Articles 31 and 43 of the 1993 Constitution grant religious equality under the law and religious freedom of worship, respectively. Article 43 of the 1993 Constitution declares Buddhism the national religion and Article 68 promotes Buddhist institutions.

References:

1947 Cambodia Constitution: Advocatetanmoy Law Library. https://advocatetanmoy.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/06/cambodia-constitution-1947.pdf

1993 Cambodia Constitution as revised up to 1999: https://pressocm.gov.kh/en/archives/9539

Cameroon 🖉 edit

The 1972 constitution of Cameroon first asserts that Freedom of religion and worship shall be guaranteed in Article 15 of the preamble. In Article 14 the state is declared secular and neutral, also opening the preamble with adherence to the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights. While not specifically mentioned in the 1961 Constitution, it also affirms adherence to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which covers religious freedom under Article 18.

References:

1961 Constitution of Cameroon: https://condor.depaul.edu/mdelance/images/Pdfs/Federal%20Constitution%20of%20Cameroon.pdf

1972 Constitution of Cameroon as revised up to 2008: https://www.constituteproject.org/constitution/Cameroon_2008?lang=en

Canada 🖉 edit

As part of the Constitution Act of 1982, Part I B(2) and F(15) grant religious freedoms and protections. Part I of the 1982 Constitution Act asserts the supremacy of God.

References:

Constitution Act of 1982: https://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/pdf/const_e.pdf

Cape Verde 🖉 edit

Freedom of religion is first asserted in the 1980 Constitution of the Republic of Cabo Verde. Articles 42.1, 44.1, 45.1, 47.2-3, and 48 grant religious freedoms and prohibit religious discrimination. This constitution guarantees freedom from religious discrimination, separation of church and state, freedom of religious instruction, guaranteed religious presence in hospitals, prisons, and armed forces, and the protection of religious places of worship.

References:

Constitute Project. Constitution of the Republic of Cabo Verde. 1980. https://www.constituteproject.org/constitution/Cape_Verde_1992

Central African Republic 🖉 edit

Article 8 of the 1994 Constitution reads: "The freedom of conscience, of assembly and the free exercise of worship are guaranteed to all within the conditions fixed by law. Any form of religious fundamentalism and intolerance is forbidden."

The Constitution of the Central African Republic was ratified on March 27, 2016. Articles 6 and 10 grant religious freedom, equality, and protections from discrimination. Article 25 declares separation of church and state.

References:

Constitution of the Central African Republic, Adopted on 28 December 1994, promulgated on 14 January 1995: https://g7plus.fd.uc.pt/pdfs/CentralAfricanRepublic.pdf

“Central African Republic 2016 Constitution.” Constitute. Last modified 2016. https://www.constituteproject.org/constitution/Central_African_Republic_2016

Chad 🖉 edit

Article 5 of the 1959 Chad Constitution guaranteed religious freedom: "the Republic assures to all equality of rights without distinction of race, of origin or of religion. Each one professes their religion freely and receives from the State, for the exercise of their belief [culte], an equal protection;"

The 2018 Chad Constitution also guarantees religious freedom, in Title II, Chapter I, Article 27. Article 14 of Title II also guarantees equality without distinction of origin, of race, of sex, of religion, of political opinion or of social position.

References:

1959 Chad Constitution: "Title I: Of the State, of Sovereignty and of the Public Freedoms," Constitution of the Republic of Chad 31 March 1959 (1959): 3-4 https://heinonline-org.proxygw.wrlc.org/HOL/Page?collection=cow&handle=hein.cow/zztd0003&id=3&men_tab=srchresults

2018 Chad Constitution: https://www.constituteproject.org/constitution/Chad_2018?lang=en

Chile 🖉 edit

Freedom of Religion was first guaranteed in the 1925 Constitution of The Republic of Chile under Chapter III, Article 10, Section 2: "Practice of all beliefs, liberty of conscience and the free exercise of all religions that may not be contrary to morality, good usage and public order."

Article 10.2 of the 1980 Chile Constitution with revisions up to 2021 offers a very similar formulation of freedom of religion.

References:

Constitute Project. 1925 Constitution of the Republic of Chile. https://www.constituteproject.org/constitution/Chile_1925?lang=en

1980 Chile Constitution with revisions up to 2021: https://www.constituteproject.org/constitution/Chile_2021

China 🖉 edit

The Constitution establishes freedom of religion, but limits it to "normal religious activity" without defining normal. Religious groups are controlled if they are perceived to be a threat by the Communist Party. In recent years, there has been a campaign of religious persecution of the Uighurs in the Xinjiang province (U.S. Department of State, "CHINA (INCLUDES TIBET, XINJIANG, HONG KONG, AND MACAU) 2018 INTERNATIONAL RELIGIOUS FREEDOM REPORT").

Colombia 🖉 edit

Article 19 of the 1991 Constitution stated: "Freedom of religion is guaranteed. Every individual has the right to freely profess his/her religion and to disseminate it individually or collectively. All religious faiths and churches are equally free before the law."

Comoros 🖉 edit

Religious Freedom is not guaranteed in Comoros. The Constitution declares Sunni Islam the religion of the state under Chapter V, Article 97 under the current constitution. However, Under Title I, Chapter I, Article 2, equality before the law is guaranteed regardless of religion.

U.S. Department of State. Report on International Religious Freedom. 2021. Comoros. https://www.state.gov/reports/2021-report-on-international-religious-freedom/comoros/

Constitute Project. 2018 Constitution of Comoros. https://www.constituteproject.org/constitution/Comoros_2018

Costa Rica 🖉 edit

The Constitution of Costa Rica was ratified on 1949 November 7. Article 75 both declares the Roman Catholic Church as the official religion of Costa Rica and grants freedom of religion.

https://www.constituteproject.org/constitution/Costa_Rica_2011.pdf

Croatia 🖉 edit

Under Title III, Section II, Article 40, Freedom of religion is first asserted in the 1991 Constitution of The Republic of Croatia. Equality regardless of religion is also guaranteed under Article 14.

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Croatia's Constitution of 1991 with Amendments through 2001. https://faolex.fao.org/docs/pdf/cro129771.pdf

Cuba 🖉 edit

Article 26 of the 1901 Constitution of Cuba, adopted in 1902, asserted separation of church from state and freedom of religious practice, "without further restriction than that demanded by the respect for Christian morality and public order."

The Constitution of Cuba was ratified on 24 February 2019. Articles 15, 42, and 57 grant religious freedoms, equality, and prohibit religious discrimination. Articles 15 and 32.b declare Cuba a secular state.

References:

1901/1902 Constitution: English translation of the Spanish original text of the Constitution of 1901/2. 155 (2010) Section I: Individual Rights: https://heinonline-org.proxygw.wrlc.org/HOL/Page?collection=cow&handle=hein.cow/zzcu0004&id=4&men_tab=srchresults

https://www.constituteproject.org/constitution/Cuba_2019.pdf?lang=en

Cyprus 🖉 edit

Under part II, Article 18, Freedom of Religion was first asserted in the 1960 Constitution of Cyprus. This Constitution was adopted upon independence from the UK in the same year.


International Labour Organization. Constitution of Cyprus 1960. https://www.ilo.org/dyn/natlex/docs/ELECTRONIC/47927/136251/F-1750868360/CYP47927_LEG_Constitution%201960.pdf

CIA World Factbook. Cyprus. https://www.cia.gov/the-world-factbook/countries/cyprus/

Czech Republic 🖉 edit

The first assertion of freedom of religion within the Czech Republic was asserted in the 1960 Constitution of Czechoslovakia under Chapter II, Article 32. However, In the 1992 Constitution of the Czech Republic, freedom of religion is not mentioned. Instead, there is a supplemental document, The Charter of Fundamental Rights and Freedoms, under the Constitutional Order of 1992 that covers religious freedom under Article 15.


International Labour Organization. Constitution of the Czech Republic https://www.ilo.org/dyn/travail/docs/1967/Constitution%20of%20the%20Czech%20Republic.pdf

World Statesman. Constitution of Czechoslovakia. 1960. https://www.worldstatesmen.org/Czechoslovakia-Const1960.pdf

CHARTER OF FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS AND FREEDOMS. https://www.usoud.cz/fileadmin/user_upload/ustavni_soud_www/Pravni_uprava/AJ/Listina_English_version.pdf

Democratic Republic of the Congo 🖉 edit

Under Title II, Article 24, Freedom of religion is affirmed in the 1964 Constitution of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. However, It does state that worship, teaching, practices, and performance of worship should be subject to the respect of public order and good morals. The current Constitution was ratified on February 18, 2006. Articles 13, 22, 45, and 61.7 grant religious protections and freedoms. It also declares the Democratic Republic of the Congo as a secular state.

U.S. Department of State. Report on Religious Freedom. 2022. Democratic Republic of The Congo. https://www.state.gov/reports/2022-report-on-international-religious-freedom/democratic-republic-of-the-congo/

Wikisource. Translated 1964 Constitution of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Translation:Constitution_of_the_Democratic_Republic_of_the_Congo_(1964)#Title_II._Fundamental_rights

https://www.constituteproject.org/constitution/Democratic_Republic_of_the_Congo_2011.pdf?lang=en

Denmark 🖉 edit

As early as 1849, elements of the right to religious freedom were asserted in the Fundamental Law of the Kingdom of Denmark. According to Article 76 of the 1866 revised version of the 1849 Fundamental Law, "Citizens shall have the right to organize themselves into societies for the worship of God according to their convictions, provided that their doctrines and conduct do not violate good morals or public order." Article 79 of the 1866 revision held that there could be no religious test for enjoyment of civil rights, or relief from civil obligations by reason of religion. Articles 75 and 78 of the 1866 revision described the legal regulation of the national church and of other churches.

Article 77 of the 1866 revision required that those unable to show membership in a denomination recognized by the government "shall pay into the educational funds the personal taxes authorized by law for the use of the national church." The 1953 Constitutional Act of Denmark addresses religious liberty in Sections 66-70, and in Section 68 asserts: "No one shall be liable to make personal contributions to any denomination other than the one to which he adheres."

References:

1849 Fundamental Law of the Kingdom of Denmark: French translation of the Fundamental Law of 1849 1218 (2010) Fundamental Law of the Kingdom of Denmark: https://heinonline-org.proxygw.wrlc.org/HOL/Page?handle=hein.cow/zzdk0006&collection=cow

Fundamental Law of the Kingdom of Denmark [Revising the Fundamental Law of 1849], 1866: English translation of the Fundamental Law of 1866, revising that of 1849. 278 (2010), VIII: https://heinonline-org.proxygw.wrlc.org/HOL/Page?handle=hein.cow/zzdk0009&id=12&collection=cow&index=

1953 Constitutional Act of Denmark: https://www.thedanishparliament.dk/-/media/sites/ft/pdf/publikationer/engelske-publikationer-pdf/the_constitutional_act_of_denmark_2018_uk_web.pdf

Djibouti 🖉 edit

Djibouti’s constitution, adopted in 1992, affirms Islam as the state’s religion, though it respects all faiths and protects freedom of religion. The right is guaranteed under Article 11 (Djibouti 1992).

Djibouti. 1992 "Djibouti 1992 (rev. 2010)" Constitute Project. https://www.constituteproject.org/constitution/Djibouti_2010

Dominica 🖉 edit

After its independence from the United Kingdom in 1979, the Commonwealth of Dominica adopted its Constitution, which had been written the year prior. Article 9 deals with “Protection of conscience” and protects freedom of religion (Dominica 1978).

Dominica. 1978 “Dominica 1978 (rev. 2014)” Constitute Project https://www.constituteproject.org/constitution/Dominica_2014

Dominican Republic 🖉 edit

Article 11, Section 18 of the 1887 Constitution of the Dominican Republic offered religious toleration, observing that Roman Catholicism was the official religion, but allowing that "Other sects may hold their services freely in their respective houses of worship."

References:

English translation of the Constitution of 1887. 757 (2010) Chapter III: National Guarantees:https://heinonline-org.proxygw.wrlc.org/HOL/Page?collection=cow&handle=hein.cow/zzdo0006&id=3&men_tab=srchresults

East Timor 🖉 edit

Created and ratified in 2002 after the country gained independence from Indonesia, the Constitution of East Timor guarantees its citizens freedom of religion. Two sections grant this right: Sections 1 and 2 under Article 12 and Sections 1 through 4 under Article 45 (Timor-Leste 2002).

Article 12 asserts: "1. The State shall recognise and respect the different religious denominations, which are free in their organisation and in the exercise of their own activities, to take place in due observance of the Constitution and the law. 2. The State shall promote the cooperation with the different religious denominations that contribute to the well-being of the people of East Timor."

Article 45 holds: "1. Every person is guaranteed the freedom of conscience, religion and worship and the religious denominations are separated from the State. 2. No one shall be persecuted or discriminated against on the basis of his or her religious convictions. 3. The right to be a conscientious objector shall be guaranteed in accordance with the law. 4. Freedom to teach any religion in the framework of the respective religious denomination is guaranteed."

References:

2002. Constitution of the Democratic Republic of Timor-Leste. http://timor-leste.gov.tl/wp-content/uploads/2010/03/Constitution_RDTL_ENG.pdf.

Ecuador 🖉 edit

The first liberal constitution of Ecuador was adopted in 1897, establishing and protecting freedom of religion in the country for the first time. Article 13 under Section IV states that "The State respects the religious beliefs of the inhabitants of the Equator, and shall cause the exercise of the same to be respected. Religious belief shall be no obstacle to the exercise of political and civil rights."

Under the 2008 Constitution, Articles 11.2, 19, 66.8, 66.11, and 66.28 grant religious freedom, equality, and prohibit religious discrimination., and Article 1 declares Ecuador a secular state.

References:

1897 Constitution of Ecuador: English translation of the original Constitution of 1897 1098 (2010) Chapter IV: Of Guarantees https://heinonline-org.proxygw.wrlc.org/HOL/Page?collection=cow&handle=hein.cow/zzec0008&id=4&men_tab=srchresults

2021. “Ecuador 2008 (Rev. 2021) Constitution.” 2021. ConstitutionNet. https://www.constituteproject.org/constitution/Ecuador_2021?lang=en.

Egypt 🖉 edit

The Royal Decree No. 42 of 1923 On Building a Constitutional System for the Egyptian State guarantees Egyptian citizens equal civil and political rights, regardless of religion, stated in Article 3 (“Royal Decree No. 42 of 1923” 1923). Article 12 of that document asserted the absolute character of freedom of belief. Article 13 described conditions with reference to religious practice: "The State shall safeguard the freedom of performing religious rites and beliefs as per traditions observed in Egyptian territories provided that such shall not breach public order or contradict morals."

However, it was the Constitution of 1956 that made freedom of belief absolute in the constitution’s bill of rights (“The New Egyptian Constitution” 1956). Under the 2014 Constitution of the Arab Republic of Egypt, Articles 53 and 64 grant religious freedom, equality, and prohibit religious discrimination, and Article 2 declares Islam Egypt’s official religion and Sharia a guiding principle of legislation.

References:

“Royal Decree No. 42 of 1923” 1923: https://constitutionnet.org/sites/default/files/1923_-_egyptian_constitution_english_1.pdf

The New Egyptian Constitution. (1956). Middle East Journal, 10(3), 300–306. http://www.jstor.org/stable/4322826

https://www.constituteproject.org/constitution/Egypt_2019?lang=en ... further results

Is the identification of this right associated with a particular era in history, political regime, or political leader? 🖉 edit

Religious freedom, while commonplace in modern liberal democracies, was not always identified as a natural right with which people were born. Historical narratives describe the “Dark Ages” between the fall of the Roman Empire and the advent of early modernity as a period in which the world was divided between various civilizations according to the religions which they professed. The Reformation was one of the most influential movements in the course of western history. As leaders like Martin Luther, and John Calvin led Christian communities to break from traditional Catholicism, the rate of religious pluralism rose within Europe and led to a series of religious wars that defined the sixteenth century. In an early attempt to mediate these conflicts, German rulers negotiated the 1555 Peace of Augsburg. Alexandra Walsham writes that this document “established the principle of cuius regio, eius religio, by which individual rulers were permitted to choose whether Catholicism or Protestantism should be professed in their states” (Walsham, “Reformation Legacies,” 297.) Thus, in addition to legalizing the practice of multiple religions within the German states, the adoption of cuius regio, eius religio also meant that religion would no longer be forced upon a principality by outside forces. The idea that Christian rulers could have the right to choose their own religion, and that this choice would be respected, represents an early step toward the principles of religious pluralism and toleration. The Peace of Augsburg did not lend religious agency to the subjects living within these principalities, but it did show European leaders that cooperation was possible between rulers who belonged to differing faiths. The seventeenth century was an especially bloody one which included such conflicts as the English Civil War, the French Wars of Religion, and the vicious Thirty Years’ War. Religious plurality invariably led to violence in the seventeenth century, but these conflicts were often followed by important agreements that fostered some level of religious toleration. In 1598, following the religious battles between Catholics and Protestants in France, the French King Henry (IV) of Navarre signed the Edict of Nantes, which “gave Protestants permission to practice their faith openly, albeit within strict limits and as second-class citizens” (Walsham, “Reformation Legacies,” 299). The Thirty Years’ War famously concluded with the Peace of Westphalia, which decreed (among other things) that while each state should have the right to establish an official religion, they were also obligated to allow their subjects the opportunity to practice different Christian denominations without fear of persecution (Christenson, “Liberty of the Exercise of Religion in the Peace of Westphalia,” 740). By favoring religious toleration, Westphalia’s signatories recognized that only religious toleration would reduce the potential for future conflict between the various sects of Christianity. Documents like the Edict of Nantes and the Peace of Westphalia ultimately failed to end religious persecution and conflict within Europe, but they still reveal a heightened awareness of the need for leaders to tolerate religious plurality within their borders. As the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries wore on, European intelligentsia began exploring the concept of religious freedom more directly. Enlightenment thinkers such as Voltaire and Baruch Spinoza led the intellectual charge in support of freedom of conscience and thought, while political leaders such as Roger Williams and Thomas Jefferson incorporated principles of religious freedom and the separation of church and state into their state building efforts in North America. While legal guarantees of the right to religious freedom would not be made until the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the modern right to freedom of religion is rooted in Reformation-era efforts to mediate religious conflict and incorporate religious toleration into budding European nation-states.

REFERENCES

Gordon A. Christenson, “Liberty of the Exercise of Religion in the Peace of Westphalia,” Transnational Law & Contemporary Problems, Vol. 21, 2012).

Alexandra Walsham, “Reformation Legacies,” from The Oxford History of the Reformation, ed. Peter Marshall, Oxford University Press: Oxford, 2022


Is there another noteworthy written source from the past that mentions this right? 🖉 edit

The Edict of Milan came two years after the Edict of Toleration by Galerius and granted religious toleration within the Roman Empire.

References


What specific events or ideas contributed to its identification as a fundamental right? 🖉 edit

After witnessing the horror of religious warfare during the Reformation era, European philosophy began to explore the idea of religious toleration within political society. As the Enlightenment movement gained momentum during the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries, western civilization turned to science, empiricism, and reason as sources of wisdom and knowledge. This movement was accompanied by a shift away from purely religious discourse as innovative thinkers began to take up more secular pursuits than they could have in centuries past. With this shift thinkers like Locke, Voltaire, Spinoza, and Williams began to question whether states had the right to dictate their subjects’ religious beliefs. These questions led these Enlightenment thinkers to begin believing that political society would better respect its citizens’ rights if it were to adopt policies of religious toleration.

Religious pluralism became a reality in Enlightenment-era Europe. The Protestant Reformation of the previous centuries had given rise to a number of Protestant-dominated secular states which had carved out a right to remain independent of the Catholic Church after decades of bloodshed and warfare. In the following centuries, thinkers like Spinoza and Voltaire reflected upon the dangers that intolerance can pose to a peaceful society. In 1670 Spinoza’s anonymously published “Treatise on Theology and Politics” radically asserted that “men are very prone to error on religious subjects, and, according to the diversity of their dispositions, are wont with considerable stir to put forward their own inventions, as experience more than sufficiently attests.” (Spinoza, “The Chief Works of Benedict De Spinoza,” 163). However, rather than calling for the abolition of religious toleration, Spinoza uses this idea that religious difference breeds conflict to suggest that states should abandon any effort to control their citizens’ beliefs, and should instead simply protect the people’s right to their own thoughts. In a state built on principles of toleration instead of religious unity, religious conflict would be less likely. A century later, Voltaire came to a similar conclusion in his 1775 “Treatise on Tolerance.” In this work, the Frenchman writes that “toleration, in fine, never led to civil war; intolerance has covered the earth with carnage,” and asserts that “the whole of our continent shows us that we must neither preach nor practise intolerance” (Voltaire, “Toleration and Other Essays-Online Library of Liberty”). By linking the idea of religious toleration to the need for states to maintain law and order within society, both Spinoza and Voltaire began to identify religious freedom as an essential facet of a well-ordered state.

Another important Enlightenment idea that contributed to the identification of the right to religious freedom was the argument that God may will that religious toleration be extended throughout the Christian world. After centuries of warfare, much of it based on the principle that members of the one true religion must fight infidels in the name of God, this was a relatively novel idea. In his 1644 work, The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution, Roger Williams rejects this idea and states that “it is the will and command of God, that (since the coming of his Son the Lord Jesus) a permission of the most pagan, Jewish, Turkish, or Antichristian consciences and worships, be granted to all men in all nations and countries...” (Williams, “The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution”). The Tenant even goes as far as to claim that “God requireth not an uniformity of religion to be enacted and enforced in any civil state…”(Williams, “The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution”). Williams’ work was not well-received by his audience in England, especially considering that the country was still in the midst of a religiously-motivated civil war. However, the idea that the civil state should not enforce any religion was hugely influential in the colony of Rhode Island, of which Williams is considered the sole founder. Decades later, in 1689 following the French King Louis XIV’s revocation of the Edict of Nantes, Locke wrote something very similar in his “Letter Concerning Toleration.” In this letter, he asserts that “the toleration of those that differ from others in matters of religion is so agreeable to the Gospel of Jesus Christ...that it seems monstrous for men to be so blind as not to perceive the necessity and advantage of it in so clear a light” (Locke, “A Letter Concerning Toleration”). The desire to follow God’s will had long guided European thoughts about the connection between church and state, but thinkers like Williams and Locke presented important challenges to this notion. This allowed for discussion over the right to religious freedom to flourish as the Enlightenment wore on.

Though discourse on religious toleration was still considered fairly radical during the seventeenth century, Enlightenment philosophers also questioned whether it was indeed even possible for a state to dictate its citizens’ religious beliefs. Spinoza’s “Treatise” is heavily concerned with the idea that a person’s right to think freely is a natural right which cannot be deprived by any political society. He writes that “however unlimited, therefore, the power of a sovereign may be, however implicitly it is trusted as the exponent of law and religion, it can never prevent men from forming judgments according to their intellect, or being influenced by any given emotion” (Spinoza, “The Chief Works of Benedict De Spinoza,” 194). This, Spinoza believes, necessarily implies that a state could never enforce a person’s belief or religious faith because it is not possible for a state to take a person’s mastery of their own thoughts. Voltaire expresses a similar sentiment in his essays when he states that “it does not depend on man to believe or not to believe: but it depends on him to respect the usages of his country” (Voltaire, “Toleration and Other Essays-Online Library of Liberty”). Writing about a century after Spinoza, Voltaire also explored the idea that the state is unable to change how a citizen believes, as long as the belief is not inherently detrimental to the state itself. With this in mind, Voltaire advances the idea that because states cannot change its citizens’ beliefs, it should embrace a diversity of beliefs by incorporating the principle of religious freedom into its governance.

Among the most radical Enlightenment-era ideas concerning religious toleration was the thought that civil states did not have the inherent right to dictate citizens’ religion at all. Locke’s “Letter” asserts that “nobody, therefore, in fine, neither single persons nor churches, nay, nor even commonwealths, have any just title to invade the civil rights and worldly goods of each other upon pretence of religion” (Locke, “A Letter Concerning Toleration”). Spinoza similarly states that “government which attempts to control minds is accounted tyrannical, and it is considered an abuse of sovereignty and a usurpation of the rights of subjects” (Spinoza, “The Chief Works of Benedict De Spinoza,” 194). This idea that citizens of a political society could have the innate right to decide their own thoughts and religion built upon the initial identification of religion as a multifaceted issue, which originated centuries earlier during the Reformation. As early as 1644, former Massachusetts Puritain Roger Williams rather controversially wrote that “all civil states and their officers of justice in their respective constitutions and administrations are proved essentially civil, and therefore not judges, governors, or defenders of the Spiritual or Christian state and worship” (Williams, “The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution”). The principle that civil states could not serve as spiritual authorities directly influenced the development of political states such as the Rhode Island Colony and the United States of America, in which freedom of religion was identified as an essential right with which the government could not interfere.

Though the idea of a right to religious freedom was first conceived during the religious wars of the Reformation era, Enlightenment thinkers deserve credit for identifying religious freedom as an essential right. Questions of whether God’s will dictated religious uniformity, the dangers of combating religious pluralism, as well as issues of citizen and states’ rights all contributed, decades and centuries after they were originally pondered, to the inclusion of religious freedom in mainstream political discourse. Williams and Locke both made important contributions to the growing American discussion of essential rights and liberties, while writings from thinkers like Spinoza and Voltaire gradually invited Europeans to consider the benefits of granting religious freedom to their subjects.

References:

Locke, “Letter Concerning Toleration”

Spinoza, The Chief Works of Benedict De Spinoza

Voltaire, Voltaire. Toleration and Other Essays. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1755. https://oll.libertyfund.org/title/mccabe-toleration-and-other-essays.

Roger Williams, “The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution”


When was it generally accepted as a fundamental, legally-protectable right? 🖉 edit

Religious freedom was originally identified as a fundamental right when Enlightenment thinkers began to question whether political society has the obligation, or even the right, to decide its citizens’ religion. At the time, the widespread conclusion was that religious toleration and freedom of belief were preferable to religious uniformity and faith-based oppression. Around the same time in the seventeenth and eighteenth century, political documents began to identify religious freedom as a fundamental, legally-protectable right with which the state had no right to interfere. Among the first western states to legislate freedom of religion were the English North American colony of Rhode Island, a few of its fellow American colonies, and the United States itself. There was some historical precedent for ideas relevant to religious toleration in the form of the 1598 Edict of Nantes and the 1648 Treaty of Westphalia, but the Rhode Island Charter and the United States Constitution were among the first documents to completely prohibit governments from interfering in their citizens’ religious affairs. The founding of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations is credited to Roger Williams, a preacher who was banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1635 and went on to purchase from the Narragansett Native Americans a plot of land that would become the city of Providence, Rhode Island (Smithsonian Institution, “God, Government and Roger Williams’ Big Idea”). He was banished for holding religious views that contrasted with those upon which the Massachusetts Bay Colony was founded, and it is likely that this experience influenced his thoughts about religious freedom and the value of toleration within political society. He expresses these views quite effectively in his 1644 work, The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution, which states that “the permission of other consciences and worships than a state professeth, only can (according to God) procure a firm and lasting peace, (good assurance being taken according to the wisdom of civil state for uniformity of civil obedience from all forts)” (Williams, “The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution,”). The Rhode Island Charter, which Williams secured from Parliament in July 1663, reflects this view. It states that:

   "No person within the said colony, at any time hereafter, shall be any wise molested, punished, disquieted, or called in question, for any differences in opinion in matters of religion, and do not actually disturb the civil peace of our said colony; but that all and every person and persons may, from time to time, and at all times hereafter, freely and fully have and enjoy his and their own judgments and consciences, in matters of religious concernments, throughout the tract of lance hereafter mentioned." (“Charter of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations - July 15, 1663”)

By prohibiting the molestation, punishment, disquieting, and questioning of any citizen on the basis of religion, the Charter sets a clear guarantee that those living within the colony had the legal right to religious freedom. This was groundbreaking not only because it was the first of the thirteen original American colonies to guarantee total religious freedom, but also because unlike most contemporary acts of toleration, the Charter did not exclude Quaker and Jewish citizens from enjoying the religious freedom that it promised. Of course, Rhode Island was not the only one of the thirteen original American colonies to identify religious freedom as a fundamental, legally protectable right. Colonies like Maryland and Pennsylvania are also noteworthy for their inclusion of religious groups that made up the English minority. Maryland famously welcomed Catholics inside its borders, and Pennsylvania was originally founded as a Quaker colony under William Penn. As the colonies grew they became examples to contemporary Enlightenment thinkers, who looked to their example as proof that religious toleration was a desirable principle within any system of government. In his work on religious toleration, Voltaire writes of Philadelphia that “discord and controversy are unknown in the happy country they have made for themselves; and the very name of their chief town, Philadelphia, which unceasingly reminds them that all men are brothers, is an example and a shame to nations that are yet ignorant of toleration” (Voltaire, “Toleration and Other Essays - Online Library of Liberty,”). The benefits of religious freedom were well-known by the time of the American Revolution, which explains why religious freedom was such an important building block of the early republic. The Constitution of the United States was also one of the first documents to identify religious freedom as a fundamental, legally protectable right. Its First Amendment states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances” (“United States Bill of Rights, Amendment I”). The inclusion of this language in such an influential document represents an important step in the identification of religious freedom as a fundamental legal right. It should be noted, however, that the First Amendment does not explicitly separate church and state within the United States government. The principle of church and state separation was not explicitly outlined until 1802, when President Thomas Jefferson outlined it in a letter to the Baptist community of Danbury, Connecticut. It was written in response to community leaders’ complaint that religious freedom was being treated as a privilege, not a right within their state. They wrote that “our sentiments are uniformly on the side of religious liberty--that religion is at all times and places a matter between God and individuals--that no man ought to suffer in name, person, or effects on account of his religious opinions--that the legitimate power of civil government extends no further than to punish the man who works ill to his neighbors” (“Jefferson's Wall of Separation Letter”). In response, Jefferson famously asserted that “I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church & State” (“Jefferson's Wall of Separation Letter”). This separation to which he refers is built upon Enlightenment ideals set out by thinkers like Locke and Spinoza, and it represents the realization of a movement for religious freedom that originated centuries before with the Protestant Reformation. Religious freedom is a right with a long history, and for centuries after it first came into question within the western world it was debated and considered. Thinkers like Locke and Voltaire championed it, and documents such as the Treaty of Westphalia and the Edict of Nantes made important strides toward realizing it as a legally protectable right. However, many of the first true instances of legally protected religious freedom occurred in American documents such as the Rhode Island Charter and the United States Constitution. These landmark pieces of legislation framed the modern American stance on religious toleration and the right to freedom of belief.

References:

John M. Barry, “God, Government and Roger Williams’ Big Idea,” Jan. 2012, https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/god-government-and-roger-williams-big-idea-6291280/

“Charter of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations - July 15, 1663”)

“Jefferson's Wall of Separation Letter,” https://www.usconstitution.net/jeffwall.html United States Bill of Rights

Voltaire, Voltaire. Toleration and Other Essays. New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1755. https://oll.libertyfund.org/title/mccabe-toleration-and-other-essays.

Roger Williams, “The Bloudy Tenent of Persecution”