From Territorial Belonging to Consumer Choice? A Social Context for Human Rights
Historically, the voluntaristic notion of religious belonging originated in Western Europe, like habeas corpus, though it first came to fruition in late eighteenth-century North America under the constitutional rubric of ‘free exercise’. In ‘old Europe’ the idea of ‘a free Church in a free state’ came to fruition, and then quite partially, only in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, with a specific marker provided by the separation of church and state in France in 1905. The earlier acceptance of partial pluralism in Poland-Lithuania and in Transylvania became precarious under the pressures of ethno-religious nationalism.
In practice, relatively free exercise takes two forms: the semi-tolerance of minority communities embodied in the Edict of Nantes in 1598, and the semi-tolerance of personal choice accepted during the English Commonwealth from the 1640s to 1660. The sanctions renewed after 1660 against dissent, Nonconformist or Catholic, were slowly relaxed, though in the Catholic case not abolished until 1829, while in practice the vast expansion of Methodism from 1780-1840 finally institutionalised the voluntary principle. The parallel processes in North America began with state churches in Virginia and in Massachusetts (where establishment ended only in 1830), and effectively crumbled with the arrival of migrants professing many different (if mainly Protestant) faiths, and the open policy towards religious faith adopted in Rhode Island. With the American revolution the cause of toleration rapidly mutated into full formal equality.Continue reading “From Territorial Belonging to Consumer Choice? A Social Context for Human Rights”