Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Limited Toleration in England, 1689

The Act of Toleration, after being passed in Parliament, was approved on May 24, 1689 by William and Mary (1 Will & Mary c 18). The long title of the Act reveals its limited scope: An Act for Exempting their Majesties Protestant Subjects dissenting from the Church of England from the Penalties of Certain Laws (modern spelling). It was limited to allowing some freedom of worship to some dissenters. Catholics and Unitarians were excluded from the Act of Toleration.

The Protestants who dissented from the Church of England (Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians, etc.) were not "granted" freedom of religion and the Church of England remained the established church--its members had all the privileges of citizenship. England would certainly be protected from the dangers of Catholicism, as this paragraph emphasizes:
Be it enacted by the King's and Queen's most excellent majesties, by and with the advice and consent of the Lords Spiritual and Temporal, and the Commons, in this present Parliament assembled and by the authority of the same, That neither the statute made in the three and twentieth year of the reign of the late Queen Elizabeth, entitled, An act to retain the Queen's majesty's subjects in their due obedience; nor the statute made in the twenty ninth year of the said Queen, entitled, An act for the more speedy and due execution of certain branches of the statute made in the three and twentieth year of the Queen's majesty's reign viz. the aforesaid act; nor that branch or clause of a statute made in the first year of the reign of the said Queen, entitled, An act for the uniformity of common prayer and service in the church, and administration of the sacraments; whereby all persons, having no lawful or reasonable excuse to be absent, are required to resort to their parish church or chapel, or some usual place where the common prayer shall be used, upon pain or punishment by the censures of the church, and also upon pain that every person so offending shall forfeit for every such offence twelve pence; nor the statute made in the third year of the reign of the late King James the First, entitled, An act for the better discovering and repressing popish recusants; nor that other statute made in the same year, entitled, An act to prevent and avoid dangers which may grow by popish recusants; nor any other law or statute of this realm made against papists or popish recusants, except the statute made in the five and twentieth year of King Charles the Second, entitled, An act for preventing dangers which may happen from popish recusants; and except also the statute made in the thirtieth year of the said King Charles the Second, entitled, An act for the more effectual preserving the King's person and government, by disabling papists from sitting in either house of parliament; shall be construed to extend to any person or persons dissenting from the Church of England, that shall take the oaths mentioned in a statute made this present Parliament, entitled, An act for removing and preventing all questions and disputes concerning the assembling and sitting of this present Parliament; and shall make and subscribe the declaration mentioned in a statute made in the thirtieth year of the reign of King Charles the Second, entitled, An act to prevent papists from sitting in either house of Parliament; which oaths and declaration the justices of peace at the general sessions of the peace, to be held for the county or place where such person shall live, are hereby required to tender and administer to such persons as shall offer themselves to take, make, and subscribe the same, and thereof to keep a register: and likewise none of the persons aforesaid shall give or pay, as any fee or reward, to any officer or officers belonging to the court aforesaid, above the sum of six pence, nor that more than once, for his of their entry of his taking the said oaths, and making and subscribing the said declaration; nor above the further sum of six pence for any certificate of the same, to be made out and signed by the officer or officers of the said court.
If that wasn't clear enough, article XIV reiterated:

Provided always and bee it further enacted by the authorities aforesaid That neither this Act nor any Clause Article or Thing herein contained shall extend or be construed to extend to give any ease benefit or advantage to any Papist or Popish Recusant whatsoever or any person that shall deny in his Preaching or Writing the Doctrine of the Blessed Trinity as it is declared in the aforesaid Articles of Religion.

This book explores the progress of religious toleration through the seventeenth century in England:

The seventeenth century is traditionally regarded as a period of expanding and extended liberalism, when superstition and received truth were overthrown. The book questions how far England moved towards becoming a liberal society at that time and whether or not the end of the century crowned a period of progress, or if one set of intolerant orthodoxies had simply been replaced by another.

The book examines what toleration means now and meant then, explaining why some early modern thinkers supported persecution and how a growing number came to advocate toleration. Introduced with a survey of concepts and theory, the book then studies the practice of toleration at the time of Elizabeth I and the Stuarts, the Puritan Revolution and the Restoration. The seventeenth century emerges as a turning point after which, for the first time, a good Christian society also had to be a tolerant one.

Persecution and Toleration is a critical addition to the study of early modern Britain and to religious and political history.

But the difficulty for such an argument is that Catholics and Quakers were so completely shut out of the progress for toleration--except for under James II's Declaration of Toleration (1687 and 1688) which opened England up to freedom of religion:

We do likewise declare, that it is our royal will and pleasure, that from henceforth the execution of all and all manner of penal laws in matters ecclesiastical, for not coming to church, or not receiving the Sacrament, or for any other nonconformity to the religion established, or for or by reason of the exercise of religion in any manner whatsoever, be immediately suspended; and the further execution of the said penal laws and every of them is hereby suspended.

And to the end that by the liberty hereby granted, the peace and security of our government in the practice thereof may not be endangered, we have thought fit, and do hereby straightly charge and command all our loving subjects, that as we do freely give them leave to meet and serve God after their own way and manner, be it in private houses or in places purposely hired or built for that use, so that they take especial care, that nothing be preached or taught amongst them which may any ways tend to alienate the hearts of our people from us or our government; and that their meetings and assemblies be peaceably, openly, and publicly held, and all persons freely admitted to them; and that they do signify and make known to some one or more of the next justices of the peace what place or places they set apart for those uses.

And that all our subjects may enjoy such their religious assemblies with greater assurance and protection, we have thought it requisite, and do hereby command, that no disturbance of any kind be made or given unto them, under pain of our displeasure, and to be further proceeded against with the uttermost severity
. (from the 1687 version)

And yet, John Coffey gives only ten (10) pages to considering James II and Toleration in his book (according to the Table of Contents)!

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