Locke and Bayle on Religious Toleration
14 Pages Posted: 16 Nov 2012
Date Written: November 15, 2012
In Western-European societies, two questions are currently at the centre of political debate. What is the scope and what are the limits of religious toleration? What is the proper role of the state with regard to religious issues? By addressing these two topics, Dutch constitutional law scholars commonly start from two presumptions. First of all, the presumption in favour of liberty (leading to a quite absolute interpretation of fundamental rights) and secondly, the doctrine of interpretative restraint by civil authorities with regard to religious matters. These presumptions are generally considered as uncontested axioms. It seems to me that both presumptions may be qualified, however. This will be done by elaborating on the views of two 17th-century scholars on religious toleration, the Englishman John Locke and the Frenchman Pierre Bayle. Interestingly,both formulated their insights during their exile in the Dutch Republic. It will turn out that the dominant interpretation of the presumptions rests on a too superficial reading of Locke and on a disregard of Bayle’s insights, respectively.
Keywords: religious toleration, limits of toleration, constitutional rights, reciprocity, John Locke, Pierre Bayle
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