Toleration Act 1 William & Mary Ch. 18 (1689)

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TOLERATION ACT 1 William & Mary ch. 18 (1689)

The principle of religious liberty denies that the state has any legitimate authority over the individual's religion or irreligion; the principle of toleration insists that a state which maintains an establishment of religion indulge the existence of nonconformist religious groups. Toleration is a step between persecution and liberty. The Toleration Act, which accompanied the Glorious Revolution of 1688–1689, was a political necessity that restored peace to a religiously pluralistic England and ended a period of persecution during which thousands of nonconformist Protestant ministers had died in jail.

The act, entitled "A Bill of Indulgence," exempted most nonconformists from the penalties of the persecutory laws of the Restoration, leaving those laws in force but inapplicable to persons qualifying for indulgence. Subjects who took the requisite oaths to support the new king and reject the authority of the pope might have the privilege of worshipping as they pleased, because they were exempted from the penalties that had suppressed them. Baptists and Quakers received special indulgences. Thus the act had the effect of permitting the existence of lawful nonconformity, though nonconformists still had to pay tithes to the established church and endure many civil disabilities. One section of the act excluded from its benefits Roman Catholic recusants and Protestant antitrinitarians. England still regarded the former as political subversives, the latter as virtual atheists. For all its faults the statute of 1689 ushered in an era of toleration under the established church and ultimately benefited dissenters in those American colonies that maintained establishments of religion.

Leonard W. Levy


Seaton, A. (1911) 1972 The Theory of Toleration under the Later Stuarts. Pages 92–236. New York: Octagon Books.

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Toleration Act 1 William & Mary Ch. 18 (1689)

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