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Religious toleration

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A government displays religious toleration or religious tolerance when it legally permits or does not interfere with religious activities associated with sects other than than the state religion.

A group (or individual) displays religious toleration or religious tolerance when it does not oppose by force, does not oppose by rhetoric, or actively supports religious beliefs or activities of which it is not a part.

Religious tolerance does not mean one must view any or all other religions as equally valid to theirs but simply that one accepts others right to practice religion as they see fit, within reason.

Freedom of religion is based upon the legal concept of having freedom of belief as a matter of right, while freedom of worship is the freedom to engage in religious expressions and activities as a matter of right. Religious toleration by a state is a legal theory founded upon endurance and the absence of that basic freedom, because a religion has been previously established by the state.


History of religious toleration by government

Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Religious toleration was replaced as an ideal by the legal concept of freedom of religion when the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted by the 58 Member States of the United Nations General Assembly on December 10, 1948, at the Palais de Chaillot in Paris, France. This statement of intent required individual member nations to implement laws to turn an ideal theory into practical jurisprudence. Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that:

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

According to Article 18, freedom of religion is based upon a basic concept of being free, an absence of existing law limiting that freedom. Freedom of religion is related to "freedom of belief", while "freedom of worship" requires the additional freedom of manifestation or action, individually; in community with others, in public or in private. This manifestation is further defined within Article 18 as incorporating teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Historically these concepts of freedom have been denied by the implementation of authoritative mandates by governmental powers which have already established by law, a particular form of religion that is supreme above all other religions so that it derives the favor and often its organized funding from governmental treasuries. Many examples of this system of religious toleration still exist today.


During history some countries have accepted some form of freedom of religion, though in actual practice that theoretical freedom was delimited through punitive taxation, repressive social legislation and political disenfranchisement. Compare examples of individual freedom in Poland or the Muslim tradition of dhimmis, literally "protected individuals" professing an officially tolerated non-Muslim religion. In Islam the proscribed punishment for apostasy is death. These protections, being highly selective and advanced to communities rather than individual, could also be withdrawn. They were examples of the ruler's beneficence, not inalienable rights.

In most parts of European society there was no individual freedom of religion from the suppression of non-Christian worship with the Theodosian decrees of 391 AD, under the influence of Ambrose of Milan until the Enlightenment of the 18th century. Even 16th century edicts of toleration (Augsburg, Nantes) left little room for individual freedom of conscience, under the principle of cuius regio eius religio ("Whose the region is, his religion"), and did not extend toleration to small powerless minorities, like Anabaptists.

Religious tolerance was practiced in the Khazar Khaganate, the Mongol Empire of Genghis Khan, and parts of Central Europe. In the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Hungary and Austria, religious tolerance of one form or another were practised since the 16th century. With the expulsion of Polish brethren accused of high treason during the Deluge, the Central European ideas of tolerance were propagated to the Netherlands.

Some of the historical exceptions have been in regions where one of the revealed religions has been in a position of power: Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Christianity and Islam. Others have been where the established order has felt threatened, as shown in the trial of Socrates or where the ruler has been deified, as in Rome or the Persian empire, and refusal to offer token sacrifice was similar to refusing to take an oath of allegiance. This was the core for resentment and the persecution of early Christian communities.

In the United Kingdom, a lack of religious toleration and the absence of religious freedom has been a long-running source of conflict in Northern Ireland between Catholics and Protestants. The same is true in the Middle East where Jews and Muslims and a relative minority of Christians have been engaged in almost continuous conflict.

Diary of events

See also

Heresy; Apostasy; Sacrifice; Polygamy; Evangelism; Peyote; Religion and abortion; Cults; Religious pluralism; State church; Tolerance; Civil religion; First Amendment; French Revolution; Warsaw Confederation; Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms

Religious toleration by individuals and groups


External links

Last updated: 08-07-2005 21:32:42
Last updated: 08-17-2005 03:58:49