Thank Christianity, Not Secularism, for Religious Liberty

The First Amendment's origins can be found in the early Church, not the Enlightenment.

The Church Father Tertullian. Credit: Wikimedia/Public Domain

The origin story of religious liberty commonly cited in college courses and museums, informed by proponents of the so-called Whig view of history, goes something like this. In the West, individuals were expected to conform to the religious beliefs of their larger social and political communities. As evidenced in examples like the Inquisition of the Catholic Church, non-conformists risked persecution and even death. It was only the European exhaustion over the many violent wars of the Reformation era, and the subsequent secular rationalism of the Enlightenment, that led to a political solution that honored individual liberty in matters of religion.

This story, however, is not only superficial and inadequate, but backward. Religious historian Robert Louis Wilken’s Liberty in the Things of God documents how the origins of religious freedom aren’t secular, but decidedly Christian.

Tertullian, a North African Christian writer of the early third century, was the first to argue that because religious faith is an inward disposition of the mind and heart, it cannot be coerced by external forces. The Church Father writes:

It is only just and a privilege inherent in human nature that every person should be able to worship according to his own convictions; the religious practice of one person neither harms nor helps another. It is not part of religion to coerce religious practice, for it is by choice not coercion that we should be led to religion.


Elsewhere he writes:

Let one man worship God, another Jupiter; let one lift suppliant hands to the heavens, another to the altar of Fides; let one—if you choose to take this view of it—count in prayer the clouds, and another the ceiling panels; let one consecrate his own life to his God, and another that of a goat. For see that you do not give a further ground for the charge of irreligion, by taking away religious liberty, and forbidding free choice of deity, so that I may no longer worship according to my inclination, but am compelled to worship against it. Not even a human being would care to have unwilling homage rendered him.

Tertullian is the first person in Western history to use the phrase “freedom of religion.” However, freedom of conscience has an even more ancient pedigree. The North African Tertullian draws upon various biblical evidence to support his argument, claiming that Jesus’s teaching that one should render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s communicates a separation of powers between the state and the church. The Apostle Paul, in turn, spoke of the Christian conscience as sometimes the judge of right action. In the Book of Daniel, the eponymous protagonist, as well as his friends Shadrach, Mescach, and Abednego, all reject Babylonian attempts to coerce them into pagan worship.

From Tertullian to the Reformation, there is a significant Christian tradition that affirms religious freedom. Fourth-century Christian writer Lactantius argues that “religion cannot be imposed by force.” The fourth-century “protocols of Milan,” issued by the Roman emperor Constantine, granted Romans “freedom” to “all men to follow whatever religion each wishes.” Alcuin, an advisor to Charlemagne, tells the emperor that “faith arises from the will, not from compulsion…you can persuade a man to believe, but you cannot force him.” This counsel was necessary because Frankish kings were forcing the conversions of various pagan tribal groups in central Europe at the edge of a sword.

Ancient Christian appeals to religious freedom and conscience must be placed alongside this tradition of limiting free religious practice. Various Roman and Byzantine emperors enforced a particular brand of Christianity and persecuted those deemed heretics. Even the great bishop-theologian Augustine welcomed state actions against the popular North African Donatist movement. The state also restricted the public worship of Jews across the empire, though some clerics, including Pope Gregory the Great (590-604), censured the forced conversion of Jewish persons to Christianity. Medieval popes Callistus II and Innocent III likewise declared that Jews should “suffer no prejudice,” and that no violence be done against them. Similar arguments were offered by the Dominican priest Bartolome de Las Casas, who railed against Spanish soldiers and clergy who forcibly converted Amerindians to Catholicism.

This tension reached a climax during the Reformation and post-Reformation era. Wilken includes chapters on Lutheran Germany, Calvinist and Zwinglian Switzerland, and on Catholic-Protestant battles in France, the Netherlands, and England. Readers may be surprised to learn how often it was not just Protestants but also Catholics who turned to liberty in defense of their religious beliefs. Nuns in Germany, clergyman in Switzerland, Benedictine abbots in France, and papist lawyers in England all appealed to their consciences in the face of Protestant persecution. Indeed, while Reformation history is full of Catholic oppression of Protestants, it is equally full of Protestants oppressing, persecuting, and even forbidding Catholic worship.

It is ultimately the Englishmen—Roger Williams, John Owen, William Penn, and John Locke—to whom America and the West are indebted for their conception of religious freedom. Williams argued that liberty of conscience applied to all men equally, including dissenting Christians, Jews, Muslims, and even the hated Catholics. He also “severed the link between the two tables of the law,” meaning that he rejected any role for the state in the affairs of the church and vice versa. Owen, in turn, interpreted Tertullian’s earlier cited argument to mean that “liberty of conscience is a natural right” rather than one created and protected by the state. Penn, meanwhile, argued that this liberty of conscience necessarily extended to public worship. Locke, finally, incorporated some of these elements, but went even further by arguing that religious communities are fundamentally voluntary societies composed of individuals possessing “free and spontaneous” rights.

This English and Lockean interpretation defined America’s idea of religious freedom, one that seems increasingly inadequate in a society that is not only less religious, but aggressively anti-religious. Is conscience sufficient grounds to protect a Christian baker who refuses to bake a cake for a homosexual wedding? Is conscience sufficient to protect a Christian nurse or doctor who is unwilling to cooperate in certain medical procedures like abortion and euthanasia? Is conscience sufficient to protect Christian adoption agencies, medical institutions, and schools? Is conscience sufficient to protect churches that baptize their infants and catechize small children, actions that one might argue violate the “voluntary” nature of religious practice?

In truth, religion always extends beyond personal beliefs and corporate worship. It bleeds into the public square, informing the decisions of its citizens. Moreover, contra Locke, many religious communities do not view themselves as collections of autonomous individuals, but as corporate bodies that extend across society and across generations. There is an ancient, robust natural law tradition supporting this idea, one that looks to other societies, like the family and even the state, as examples of communities that also aren’t entirely voluntary. One does not choose his or her parents. Nor does one choose his or her nation. These things are givens. They may in time be rejected by individuals, though even then such bonds are impossible to fully shake off. Religion, like the family, remains a vinculum societatis, a unifying bond of society.

This is not to say that Wilken’s historical study of the development of religious liberty is inadequate. Like all of his works, Liberty in the Things of God adroitly balances sophisticated scholarly analysis with accessible prose and a compelling narrative. Indeed, Wilken in the course of his research discovered that Thomas Jefferson was familiar with Tertullian’s writings on religious liberty. Jefferson’s thought (as well as that of fellow Virginians James Madison and George Mason), encapsulated in the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, serves as another foundation for America’s understanding of religious freedom. This means that one can trace a line (albeit a faded, circuitous one) from Tertullian all the way to the First Amendment.

Yet perhaps to better protect religion’s role in the public square, it’s necessary to return to the thought of other pre-Enlightenment sources—those less tainted by the contradictions and inadequacies of liberalism. Only then can America develop an understanding of true religious liberty.

Casey Chalk is a student at the Notre Dame Graduate School of Theology at Christendom College. He covers religion and other issues for The American Conservative.

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42 Responses to Thank Christianity, Not Secularism, for Religious Liberty

  1. Cherry picking a few quotes is not scholarship. I miss any discussion of the Albigensian Crusade, for example. The simple fact is that the Catholic Church was known for its intolerance for centuries, and the Protestant faiths continued the same practices as long as they could. It was, shockingly, the Enlightenment, with men like Montaigne, Montesquieu, and Spinoza, who rejected the notion of revelation and made the world safe for people of all faiths. It is deplorable that so many secularists today are forgetting the benefits of tolerance.

  2. Fazal Majid says:

    That’s just silly.

    Freedom of religion was integral to the Persian Achaemenid empire of Cyrus the Great and his successors. Not only did he leave his subjects to worship as they will, as evidenced by the Cyrus Cylinder, but he was the one who freed the Jews from their Babylonian exile and returned them to Jerusalem, probably the first and last time any gentile did anything good for them without ulterior motive.

    All of this seven centuries before Tertullian. Many other Eastern empires and kingdoms had this policy of toleration, notably the Turks with their millet system (and also providing a refuge to Jews expelled from Spain, are we beginning to see a trend here?).

    The Augsburg Peace and its principle of “Cujus Regio, ejus religio” is a distinctly European pathology, and can trace its origins to the baleful influence of the Catholic Church and its mirror-image Reformed opponents.

  3. Stephen R Gould says:

    No doubt there were always individuals advocating for religious liberty. But when did any Christian state implement it? Not until relatively recently. So trying to credit Christianity for the origins of religious liberty seems something of a stretch.

    And note how, even amidst the pious wails of those who insist on their religious liberty not to act in certain ways, the very antithesis of religious liberty is seen – even on these pages – by opposition on religious grounds to an entirely secular government act, to wit, SSM.

    Note too how those selfsame pious insist that SSM is somehow an infringement on their religious liberty.

    So if religion in general and Christianity specifically is the source of the idea of religious liberty, they’ve done a fairly crappy job of getting this through to their adherents here in the US.

  4. M. Orban says:

    From an outside perspective, the problem of almost all of the religious freedom causes that they are perceived as freedom to inflict harm.

    It is great that some Berber dude saw the light… I mean the value of being left alone in one’s religious practices, especially when his own beliefs and practices are barely tolerated by the powerful. And yes, we can engage in some theological and historical belly dance, but on the end the only thing that matters is perception.
    So when you ask the polity to grant you religious freedom, you better be able to articulate what do you want to use that freedom for. For good or ill? On top of that you have to argue in the moral framework of your interlocutors.
    If you don’t do that, if you try to force your way, taking advantage of legal loopholes…. on the long run it won’t end well. You’ll go the way of the Zoroastrians and deservedly so.

  5. Luther Perez says:

    Considering the body count of the Religious Wars of Europe, I suspect secular liberalism helped too.

  6. mrscracker says:

    Thank you so much for this article.
    Didn’t Tertullian become a heretic later in life?

  7. JonF says:

    Stephen R Gould, Poland had a high degree of religious freedom at an early date. In the Middle Ages Casimir the Great welcomed persecuted Jews from elsewhere in Europe to his realm. Poland straddled the Orthodox-Catholic divide and in the Reformation Protestantism, both Lutheran and Calvinism became common.

  8. Johann says:

    Organized religion is one thing, but the Biblical New Testament teachings are another. The New Testament unambiguously states that each person must choose to repent of their sins in order to be saved from eternal damnation. They cannot be forced to do so, and even if they are forced, it means nothing. It must come from the heart. Most people choose not to, even many who attend Church.

    Christians are compelled to share the gospel with the world, but if the message is rejected they are to shake the dust off their feet and move on, according to the New Testament.

  9. Roy Fassel says:

    Thank Christianity, Not Secularism, for Religious Liberty

    Is this the Onion website?

  10. mrscracker says:

    Luther Perez says:
    “Considering the body count of the Religious Wars of Europe, I suspect secular liberalism helped too.”

    I think most wars revolve around the control of power & money, no matter what the guise may be.

    I’m just guessing that partly due to technology & modern weapons the number of victims of secular wars of the last couple centuries surpasses the body count of past “religious” conflicts. But I don’t have the figures in front of me & may be wrong.

    I think our fallen human nature remains the same whether we identify as religious or a secular liberal. We just rationalize bad behaviors in different ways.

  11. PAX says:

    I believe you are correct. Not the official church per se, but the underlying premise of Christianity that welled up like a tsunami among us unwashed masses. Please don’t praise Christianity (especially Catholicism) – it is offensive to many liberals who thought they had finally excised it and now have it down for the count. Maybe not. What is a better option?

  12. William Gordon says:

    A perspective quite antithetical to the current discussion from many on the Christian Right in the US.

    Glad to see it here, doubt it will stop the march to Dominionism so clearly to to forefront of the Christian Right, drunk on their victories in 2016.

  13. Given the history, I don’t trust either Secularism or Christianity to protect religious liberty. Both have a long and nasty tradition of trying to stamp out any sort of dissent.

    Currently I fear I secularism more because it is more powerful. Not because it is any better at protecting my freedom.

  14. Luther Perez says:

    mrscracker says:

    June 11, 2019 at 9:36 am

    How do you know?

    The Reformation was an actual threat to the power & message of the Church.

    Are you suggesting that we shouldn’t believe hyperventilating Catholics when they see Drag Queen Reading Time as the next threat to Western Christianity?

  15. Luther Perez says:

    mrscracker says:

    June 11, 2019 at 9:36 am

    And, it seems to be the case that religious people & the official Christian churches supported those “secular” war for religious reasons.

  16. Oleg Gark says:

    For all the blather about shared “Judeo-Christian” values, the two religions differ in a way that lends support to the author’s argument. Jesus’ instruction to “Love thy neighbor as thyself” put all the peoples of the world on the same theological plane. This contradicted the “Chosen” status of the Jews that is described in the Old Testament.

    Today, most Christian majority countries observe religious liberty because it aligns with their core beliefs. The only Jewish majority country, on the other hand, makes sharp distinctions between the rights and privileges Jews and non-Jews.

  17. Kent says:

    In the 1890’s traditional Christians in the USA united to deny the religious liberty of Mormons to have more than one wife.

    It is always religious liberty for me, none for thee.

  18. mrscracker says:

    Luther Perez,
    True, sometimes warfare can be defended by religious people. The right of self defense, etc. Of course pacifism is another religious belief. It varies. But wars are generally about power, land & money & who controls those.

  19. Kouros says:

    Nice starting point, with a dude sharing a marginal cult, not long ago persecuted, and on his time just tolerated in the Roman Empire. And as soon as the Christians got the upper hand, the killing and burning began. Hypathia?

    One can compare that with the ebbs and flows of the fate of the Israelis. When they were high and strong, killing and pillaging, and apparently God kept the sun up or crumbled walls to support them in this fight. And while they were low and weak, the message is all sweet and tender. And look now…

    That is the same with all tribes and their religion…

  20. Gus says:

    The problem with freedom of religion in the US is that it doesn’t mean anything at all. It’s just the warm fuzzy feeling we get when we hear the words “freedom” and “religion”. “Freedom” and “religion” are both good words so they must be doubleplusgood when we use them together.
    OK, the establishment clause means something. We don’t have an official state religion. so we’re good there. But what does the free exercise of religion actually mean?

    A is a (small l) libertarian on most issues, but he is strongly in favor of placing nativity scenes and monuments to the ten commandments in public spaces, and using tax revenue to pay for them. He defends this practice on the grounds that the US is a Christian nation and public displays of piety encourage civic virtue. (He’s also in favor of non-denominational, voluntary school prayer). When a first amendment advocacy group sues his small town for placing a nativity scene in its public square, he considers it a violation of his right to freely exercise his religion.

    B is a pacifist Christian. During the Vietnam war he was exempted from service on religious grounds. His agnostic friend C had deep misgivings about the war but because he couldn’t demonstrate that these feelings were motivated by an established religious doctrine, he was required to serve (albeit in a non-combat role).

    D is the member of an ethnic group that traditionally uses psychoactive drugs in its religious rituals. He was charged with possession and distribution of narcotics, and is appealing his conviction on the grounds that his freedom of religion was infringed.

    E is pro-choice. Her sister F is pro-life. F prayed hard before deciding to vote for Donald Trump. E feels that because F’s vote was motivated by a religious conviction that she does not share, her own religious liberty has been infringed upon.

    F is a fundamentalist Christian. She believes that the founding fathers never intended freedom of religion to apply to any imaginable religion, but only to those religions that were already well represented in the US- namely Christianity and perhaps Judaism. She also believes that the wall of separation of church and state only exists to protect churches from interference from the state. Ministers should be able to stump for specific politicians without jeopardizing their tax exempt status, and the IRS should not be allowed to examine church financial records for any reason.

    G believes that freedom of religion only means the right to express religious opinions, and the right to abstain from religion. All churches should be taxed, and no religious institution should be exempt from any of the rules that apply to secular institutions.

    Some of these positions seem pretty ridiculous, but I didn’t make any of them up- They all come from people I know personally or from radio sermons. The point is that every one of those people claims to believe in religious liberty.

    The ACLU believes in religious liberty too, of course. I’m old enough to remember when the ACLU represented those neo-Nazis in Illinois. I remember thinking: love ’em or hate ’em, the lawyers of the ACLU really believe in the first amendment.

    Now they’re pretty open about their intent to destroy any church that refuses to toe the party line. The ACLU’s vision of religious liberty doesn’t differ in any meaningful way from Stalin’s.

    If Pat Robertson and the ACLU both claim to be staunch defenders of religious liberty, what can religious liberty possibly mean?

  21. Allen says:

    As far as religious wars, I don’t defend them. I just think we should note that atheistic belief systems have killed more humans on this planet than any religion ever has. Think Mao, Stalin, Pol Pot. And don’t go with that guff about Hitler being a Christian. That’s just shoddy scholarship. Hitler was a neo-pagan.

  22. hooly says:

    Casey Chalk,

    Seriously? More fake news and faker history.

    But can we all agree that religious tolerance is born out of the of Thirty Year’s War where Europeans learned the hard way about religious tolerance. And that the Enlightenment was a reaction to that bigotry and genocidal mania??

  23. Mark B. says:

    Thank You Christianity. Now mankind, get on with that Enlightment, we’re not done. Evolution calls.

  24. Stephen Pickard says:

    Mr. Chalk should learn that when he makes an
    Assertion that he needs to do some deep research that supports his thesis. This at least the second time that I have read an article by him that is long on cleverness and short on substance. The readers of TAC are highly educated and learned. Glibness is not an TAC value. Please Mr. Chalk do the hard work required to persuade. But a nice try.

  25. Stephen R Gould says:

    @JonF: Poland had a high degree of religious freedom at an early date. In the Middle Ages Casimir the Great welcomed persecuted Jews from elsewhere in Europe to his realm

    It appears that this was due to the absence of religious influence:

    During the next hundred years, the Church pushed for the persecution of the Jews while the rulers of Poland usually protected them. The Councils of Wrocław (1267), Buda (1279), and Łęczyca (1285) each segregated Jews, ordered them to wear a special emblem, banned them from holding offices where Christians would be subordinated to them, and forbade them from building more than one prayer house in each town. However, those church decrees required the cooperation of the Polish princes for enforcement, which was generally not forthcoming, due to the profits which the Jews’ economic activity yielded to the princes

  26. “And as soon as the Christians got the upper hand, the killing and burning began.”

    Yes, for the Christians but not for the Roman Empire. Christianity was indeed corrupted by the State, and that is tragic. Some of us yearn to end that tragedy, believing that pacifism is, and always has been, a core principle of Christianity.

  27. Pharmtech says:

    The Catholic Church did not even recognize the concept of religious freedom until Vatican II. Up to that time, anyone not Catholic was simply wrong, and it was the role of government to “help” them come around, by force if need be.

    As a modern non-Christian, the opponents of my religious liberty have always been Christian. It is secularists who have been there fighting for my rights at every turn.

  28. William Taylor says:

    Oh, please, the Catholic Church opposed religious liberty until the Vatican Council. And the reformation succeeded in countries whose leaders were willing to force everyone else into the same beliefs.

  29. Quizil Donor says:

    Alcuin, an advisor to Charlemagne, tells the emperor that “faith arises from the will, not from compulsion…you can persuade a man to believe, but you cannot force him.” This counsel was necessary because Frankish kings were forcing the conversions of various pagan tribal groups in central Europe at the edge of a sword.

    I really enjoy reading this author, so this is not a critique, only a dissent. As hinted at above, Charlemagne the protector of the faith was brutally wiping out the Continental Saxons, not merely forcing them to convert.

    These same Saxons in England have a much different tribal structure to the standard fare of the Franks, (later) Normans, or even most Celtic tribal norms. The Frankish ‘Christians’ closely parallel the later Norman continental societal structure that supplants the Saxons in England after the conquest.

    The Saxon society is a freeholder society, in which the army is the ‘Fyrd’ – the general population is arranged in freeholder Hides and Hundreds. Public lands are for the use of all, and the right to take game belongs to all Saxons subject to personal use and needs. Tacitus – “The power of their kings is not absolute or arbitrary”. The whole of the societal manpower composes The Fyrd which supply their own individual arms and equipment, and does not fight for pay.

    With the Franks, Normans, or Non-Belgic Celts, the King is a absolute Tyrant, most of the population are serfs with little free will, and the land is held by the elites and worked by those bound to serve their lords. A warrior class fights for their own enrichment.

    The Saxons transplant to England a tradition otherwise extinguished on the Continent; King Edgar of Wessex 973 A.D. – “Now this be the secular ordinance which I will that it be held – that every man be worthy of folk-right, as well poor as rich. ”

    From an ancestral standpoint, most English do not descend from these Saxons based on modern DNA results, however in southern England, the Belgic Atrebates have a pre-Roman client state, and in Northern England you have the Pre-Roman Brigantes and Parisi. These Brigantes are likely an offshoot of the Alpine Celtic Brigantes, who share cultural origin with the Belgic peoples, and these Parisi are likely the Gallic Parisii. The Brigantes control the largest territory in England/Britain at the time of the Roman Invasion.

    The Belgics are notable to the Romans for many of the same reasons as the Saxons – They refuse to accept traders from foreign states, they wont permit consumption of wine or intoxicants, they are a spartan-like society that is organized in a Fyrd-like manner for warfare, the society does not have a indigenous serf class. The Belgics / Alpine Celts are completely destroyed as cohesive cultures on the continent, like the Saxons, but their norms are transferred notably, to England.

    The unrecorded Pre-Roman Brigantes incursion comes to dominate most of what is today northern and central England, and would affect the existing Isles Celtic culture. The Brigantes are still fighting the Romans 75 years after the Islands conquest. This culture is overwhelmed by the Roman Empire, but its memory remains, and a similar state structure arrives again with the Saxons. The Saxon state itelf reverts to a Roman style of absolute tyranny with the Norman conquest.

    The complaint of the English population under Norman rule result in the Magna Carta, which has as its first clause, the Freedom of the English Church, followed by other claims to liberty and freedom from oppression by the King.

    While its true that the Saxons and Belgic/Alpine descendants – who survive – become Christians, their brand of belief comports with their previous social structure and insistence on a just society for its members, while the totalitarian and inflexible social structure elsewhere among Europeans produced a submission to absolute authority.

    Ominously,.. societies fairly predictably reproduce the outcomes that spawned them in the first place.

  30. JonF says:

    Stephen R Gould, Poland, like most European medical states, was run by a royal government, not by the Church, so what the Church thought about the Jews (or,later, the Protestants) is irrelevant: the government is what mattered.
    Poland’s rulers although formally Catholic themselves, were religiously tolerant and that belies any claim that religious tolerance had to await the rise of secularism. As an aside, the abandonment of tolerance in Poland, notably the attempt to force the Orthodox of Ukraine into union with Rome (which sparked the Cossack rebellion), was the beginning of the downfall of Poland.

  31. Pope Innocent says:

    Let’s be clear about this, early the christian idea of religious free was the right to a CHRISTIAN denomination of your choice but not more. While some evangelist of religious freedom might have talked a good game about the inclusive rights for Jews, Muslims and others, for the majority of persecuted christians, religious freedom was more like “freedom for ME, not for THEE”.

  32. Liam says:

    “It appears that this was due to the absence of religious influence”

    This is important to note in Polish-Lithuanian history. That area was Catholic-dominant, but multi-religious, blurred into regions of Orthodoxy and Islam. (Lithuania was the last European nation to be Christianized.) Until the advent of the Vasas in the late 16th century, the crown was more like the Venetian government in its relative distance from Rome’s diktats, which helped Poland-Lithuania retain some flexibility to avoid the worst of the Reformation’s convulsions elsewhere.

  33. Lee says:

    @ Oleg Gark
    “Today, most Christian majority countries observe religious liberty because it aligns with their core beliefs. The only Jewish majority country, on the other hand, makes sharp distinctions between the rights and privileges Jews and non-Jews.”

    Ummm, maybe that might be because they have many centuries of history of being persecuted by a great many majority-Christian countries?

  34. Greg says:

    “The New Testament unambiguously states that each person must choose to repent of their sins in order to be saved from eternal damnation”

    No it doesnt teach that at all, but it is what makes American religion so terrifying.

  35. Orban says:

    fazal majid
    “policy of toleration” excuse me? It’s rather a policy of obliteration/genocide; Zoroastrians & Armenians,etc. One now ruled by a deeply corrupt and sanguinary,intolerant theocracy and the other by a fanatical thug. Pope Benedict’s XVI speech at Regenburg speech nicely summed up this awful, blood-thirsty ideology that can only brings death , destruction & misery.

  36. One Guy says:

    Why do you think it is that so many Christians today are against Religious Freedom (for any religion other than Christianity)?

  37. JonF says:

    Quizil Donor, Charlemagne did massacre an entire Saxon army, but he did not commit genocide against the entire Saxon people. There is a big difference there, even if massacring an army is now accounted a war crime too. As a people the Saxons continted in Gernany, and in fact an entire dynasty of Holy Roman Emperors came from them some generations later.

  38. JonF says:

    Liam, as a general rule among kings as long as they kept the tithes flowing and did a certain amount of Papal ring kissing, they could get away with a lot. The buggest danger they faced from Rome was when they suffered either civil war at home or foreign war abroad and their enemies schmoozed the Pope better than they did (or whwn there were complexities in local Italian politics involved and some European king ended up on the wrong side of that). Casimir of Poland is noteworthy also for the fact that in his (ultimately futile) quest for a male heir he set aside two wives and remarried, with nary a peep from the Pope, unlike Henry VIII whose annulment got mixed up with the long-running Italian Wars and nixed at the behest of Catherine of Aragon’s nephew, Charles V. In the 11th century King Canute, a papal favorite, also got away with dumping an unwanted wife when Emma of Normandy beckoned with the crown of England as her dowry.

  39. Lee says:

    There’s a wealth of evidence that religious movements of all kinds lose their purity when embraced by politicians – in the case of Christianity, starting with Constantine. Religious or not, those with power inevitably abuse their power “for the greater good.” Yet, Christian teaching at least offers the rationale for respecting the individual’s right to life and liberty, including liberty of conscience. The weakness of secularism is that it may want niceness all around, but as shown by the various secular political revolutions from the French, Hatian, and Mexican revolutions to the present in Venezuela, there is nothing inherent in secularism to counter the pragmatists who would “strangle the last noble with the entrails of the last priest.”
    THe only way we’ve seen to avoid the abuse of power by any faction – religious or secular – has been to keep it fragmented.

  40. Adriana says:

    REliguous liberty was the result of

    1) A large empire. A large empire meant diverse people under the same ruler. Rulers of empires such as the Persian and the Roman figured out early that things went much more smoothly if their subjects were to condut their religious lives as they saw fit, as long as they paid their taxes on time.

    2) The Wars of Religion. There is nothing like a Thirty Years war, which depopulated Germany to convince anyone but the hardheaded that the State should concern itself with keeping the peace and leave religious beliefs alone. After all, the winners for the Wars of REligion were sovereigns like Henry IV of France (“Paris is well worth a Mass”) and Elizabeth I of England who approved of any religion that said that she was the rightful ruler of England.

    It was only after such painful lessons that the idea of religious liberty took root in Europe.

  41. Dennis J. Tuchler says:

    About the Christian attitude to religious liberty for Judaism during the Middle Ages under the benevolent view of the Church … There was some doubt in Maryland, early in the life of the Republic about non-Christians being allowed to hold public office.

  42. MK says:

    Where are all of the sources for these facts, arguments, and assertions? I stopped reading. An author needs to cite proper citations.

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