Tag Archives: James Madison

Three cheers for religious toleration

This was written for Scientia Salon, and partially repeats some of my previous posts.

In the all-time lists of Good Ideas the principle of religious freedom ranks high, preventing much strife and war and thus being responsible for saving more lives than penicillin and vaccination combined. [1]

“The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg”, wrote Thomas Jefferson, who rated his Virginia Statute on Religious Freedom as his finest accomplishment. [2]

Yet, despite the fact that the principle of religious freedom is now universally accepted in the civilised world, [3] there is much less agreement on how to interpret it. Indeed, my thesis here is that the principle is widely misunderstood.

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