Why is religion involved in government?

Freedom of conscience, belief and religion


Freedom of conscience, freedom of belief and freedom of religion are often praised, but are usually inadequately classified historically. This not only fades out the differences between freedom of conscience, belief and religion, it also neglects how the separation of church and state, which became a prerequisite for freedom of religion, could come about. The essay attempts to show the historical discourses on justification from freedom of conscience to freedom of religion and to name the implicit prerequisites that a democratic understanding of freedom of religion contains today.


Freedom of conscience, freedom of belief and freedom of religion are often praised, but mostly historically inadequately classified. The essay seeks to highlight the historical justifications of freedom of conscience to religious freedom and to identify the assumptions that a democratic understanding of religious freedom today implies.


  1. 1.

    To anticipate a legitimate criticism: Not all noteworthy authors can be considered in an essay like this. Due to the necessary scarcity, it is also not possible to work out verifiable lines of reception that are important for political contexts.

  2. 2.

    One only needs to remember the Paris Batholomäus Night of 1572, in which 3,000 to 4,000 Protestants were killed.

  3. 3.

    The Peace of Westphalia ended an internal German and European war. From then on, the Protestant imperial estates had a powerful ally with Sweden (Wolgast 2016, pp. 146–178).

  4. 4.

    “Anyone who opposes the laws and violence of the bourgeois state to advocate any doctrine which he himself draws from the story of the life of our Savior or the deeds or letters of the apostles, or which he believes on the basis of the authority of a private person, is very great far from being a martyr for Christ or a martyr of his martyrs. Only death for a single article of faith, namely Jesus is the Christ, deserves the honorable name of a martyr's death, and this article of faith means: He who has saved us and will come again to give us bliss and eternal life in his glorious kingdom ”(Hobbes [1651 ] 1984, p. 383).

  5. 5.

    Spinoza maintains that “religion can only have legal force through the decision of those who have the right to command, and that God has no particular kingdom among men, except through those in power, and further that the Religious cult and the exercise of piety must be based on the peace and interests of the state and are therefore to be regulated solely by the sovereign, who must therefore also be their interpreter. ”(Spinoza [1670] 2012, p. 292).

  6. 6.

    Hence the title of the work. The Gospel of Luke at the end of the parable of the feast says: "And the master said to the servant: Go out into the highways and to the fences and compel them to come in, so that my house may be full." (Luke 14:13) .

  7. 7.

    Reference was also made to the compelle intrare of the Gospel of Luke (Luke 14:23), which Augustine used after the year 405 to justify the intervention of Roman soldiers in the face of the Donatist resistance to join the Catholic Church. In the Retractationes Augustine writes: “I once said that I disapprove of the use of secular violence to force schismatics into ecclesiastical fellowship. In fact, I did not like this at the time because I had not yet learned how much evil their impunity was capable of and how much the careful application of the rules [i.e. H. the application of the current Roman laws] contributed to converting them to a better ”(Retractationes 2, 5).

  8. 8.

    Bayle therefore explicitly pleaded for the parable to be understood only as a metaphor.

  9. 9.

    The edicts with which people of different faiths were protected in the 16th and 17th centuries were officially called “pacification edicts”. See http://elec.enc.sorbonne.fr/editsdepacification/index (accessed April 01, 2019).

  10. 10.

    The preserved attic or slip churches still bear witness to the practices of the time.

  11. 11.

    "One country alone would be in the right, and the rest of the world under an obligation to follow their princes on the path that leads to ruin" (Locke 1996, p. 19).

  12. 12.

    As is well known, this did not prevent Locke from excluding Catholics and atheists from the required tolerance; the former because they lack loyalty to the state because of their orientation towards Rome, the latter because of the assumed inability to establish ties within human society. Nonetheless, Locke's writing withdrew any legitimacy from the claim to religious truth and its enforcement through state powers.

  13. 13.

    The constitutions of 1791, 1793 and 1795 soon guaranteed these basic rights. But it is also known that the revolutionary reality soon came into conflict with these rights. Because of the close connection between church and state in French absolutism, the struggle against the enemies of the revolution also became a struggle against the church. Catholic priests, but also Jews and Protestants, were executed, monasteries, churches and synagogues were closed, and services were forbidden. The Concordat of 1801 between Napoleon and Pope Pius VII finally restored its supremacy to the Catholic religion and although the Civil Code of 1804 emphasized equal civil rights, the Décret infâme of 1808 made it difficult for Jews to practice their profession (Art. 1 Concordat du 23 Fructidor an IX regissent la vie religieuse en France). Immediately after the accession to the throne of Louis XVIII. in 1814, Catholicism was restored to the status of the state religion - a policy that his brother and successor Charles X continued. The reference to the “divine providence”, which had called the Bourbons back to the French throne, opened the preamble to the Charter of 1814. (Cf. Boudon 2007, pp. 43–52; Ormières 2002, pp. 47–93).

  14. 14.

    “That all men are by nature equally free and independent, and have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into a state of society, they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety. "Art. 1 der Virginia Declaration of Rights, June 12, 1776, under: http://www.gunstonhall.org/georgemason/human_rights/vdr_final.html (April 1, 2019).

  15. 15.

    "That religion, or the duty which we owe to our Creator and the manner of discharging it, can be directed by reason and conviction, not by force or violence; and therefore, all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience; and that it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity towards each other. "Art. 16 of the Virginia Declaration of Rights, June 12, 1776, under: http://www.gunstonhall.org/georgemason/human_rights/vdr_final.html (April 1, 2019).

  16. 16.

    In Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Hampshire, on the other hand, the Puritans were mainly represented, in Virginia, North and South Carolina and in Maryland the Anglican Church.

  17. 17.

    "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. "At: http://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/documents/bill_of_rightss11.html (01.04.2019).

  18. 18.

    Already the Act of Uniformity by 1662 had committed the clergy to the Anglican Church. The Conventicle Act of 1664 and 1670 made all non-Anglican meetings outside the home a criminal offense. The Five Mile Act or Oxford Act by 1665 banished all Puritan clergy from the cities. This included removing all non-Anglicans from public office. At: http://www.british-history.ac.uk/statutes-realm/vol5/p575 (04/01/2019).

  19. 19.

    This moves the text away from the draft in two ways. First, the purpose of an assembly is no longer limited to the common good. This also allows gatherings for purposes that may be contrary to the common good, but they must be peaceful and voluntary. Second, the right of assembly is no longer restricted to the right of petition. That is, the purpose of a community can meet many requirements (Cogan 1997, p. 136).

  20. 20.

    Jefferson to Nehemiah Dodge, Ephraim Robbins, & Stephen S. Nelson, a committee of the Danbury Baptist association in the state of Connecticut, January 1, 1802. Available at: https://www.loc.gov/loc/lcib/9806 /danpost.html.

  21. 21.

    Jefferson to Reverend Samuel Miller, January 23, 1808. Available at: https://founders.archives.gov/documents/Jefferson/99-01-02-7257.

  22. 22.

    In addition, during the War of Independence, most Anglican clergy spoke out in favor of dependence on the English crown and warned their communities against an uprising. In contrast, Puritan and Calvinist preachers support the struggle for independence (Hochgeschwender 2016, pp. 94–96).

  23. 23.

    Constitution of North Carolina, December 18, 1776, Art. XXXIX. At: http://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/nc07.asp.

  24. 24.

    Virginia Declaration of Rights, June 12, 1776, Art. 16. At: http://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/nc07.asp.

  25. 25.

    Constitution of Georgia, February 5, 1777, Art. LVI. At: 〈http://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/ga02.asp.

  26. 26.

    The Constitution of New York, April 20, 1777, Art. XXXVIII. At: http://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/ny01.asp.

  27. 27.

    Alexis de Tocqueville raised the question of the importance of religion for the functioning and stability of democracy in both volumes of De la Democratie en America (1835/1840) debated.

  28. 28.

    In his manuscript too De la democracy in America notes Tocqueville: “I have heard it said in Europe that it is very unfortunate that these poor Americans are so religious. Had you been to the United States, you would have been convinced that religion is more useful in republics than in monarchies, and more useful in democratic republics than anywhere else. Catastrophic misunderstanding in France. Despotic powers favor religion in Europe ”(Tocqueville 2010/2: 479).


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  1. TU Darmstadt, Chair of Political Theory, Dolivostraße 15, 64293, Darmstadt, Germany

    Skadi Siiri Krause

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Correspondence to Skadi Siiri Krause.

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Krause, S.S. Freedom of conscience, belief and religion. Z Religion Ges Polit4, 239-261 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s41682-019-00050-9

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  • Freedom of thought
  • Religious war
  • State Church
  • religion
  • tolerance


  • Freedom of thought
  • Religious was
  • State church
  • religion
  • Tolerance