The Freedom of Conscience

The error seems not sufficiently eradicated that the operations of the mind, as well as, the acts of the body, are subject to the coercion of the laws. But, our rulers can have authority over such natural rights only as we have submitted to them. The rights of conscience we never submitted, we could not submit. We are answerable for them to our God.

The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg. If it be said his testimony in a court of justice cannot be relied on, reject it then, and be the stigma on him. Constraint may make him worse by making him a hypocrite, but it will never make him a truer man. It may fix him obstinately in his errors, but will not cure them. Reason and free inquiry are the only effectual agents against error. Give a loose rein to them, they will support the true religion by bringing every false one to their tribunal, to the test of their investigation. They are the natural enemies of error, and of error only…Were the government to prescribe to us our medicine and diet, our bodies would be in such keeping as our souls are now. Thus in France, the emetic was once forbidden as a medicine, and the potato as an article of food.

Government is just as infallible, too, when it fixes systems in physics. Galileo was sent to the Inquisition for affirming that the Earth was a sphere; the government had declared it to be fiat as a trencher, and Galileo was obliged to abjure his error. This error, however, at length prevailed; the Earth became a globe, and Descartes declared it was whirled round its axis by a vortex. The government in which he lived was wise enough to see that this was no question of civil jurisdiction, or we should all have been involved by authority in vortices. In fact, the vortices have been exploded, and the Newtonian principle of gravitation is now more firmly established on the basis of reason, than it would be were the government to step in and to make it an article of necessary faith.

Reason and experiment have been indulged, and error has fled before them. It is error alone which needs the support of government. Truth can stand by itself. Subject opinion to coercion: whom will you make your inquisitors? Fallible men; men governed by bad passions, by private, as well as, public reasons. And why subject it to coercion? To produce uniformity. But is uniformity of opinion desirable? No more than of face and stature. Introduce the bed of Procrustes then; and, as there is danger that the large men may beat the small, make us all of a size by lopping the former and stretching the latter. Reason and persuasion are the only practicable instruments. To make way for these, free inquiry must be indulged; and how can we wish others to indulge it, while we refuse it ourselves? – Thomas Jefferson

This freedom must never be submitted to groups or forcibly taken from the individual to suit the mob. This is the single most important freedom in our possession. To surrender this essential freedom to the mob for temporary security or to supplicate the mob is the acceptance of chaos, tyranny and evil.



  1. “But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”

    So you would be fine with neighbors that said “There is no god but Allah and Mohammad is His messenger”?

    Would you also be fine with these ppl trying to convert your children.

    You tell me, why on Earth would I not care about the religion of my friends, neighbors and countrymen? Why do so many parents spend so much money on Christian school over “free” public school if it does not matter? They are forking over a lot of money because it is important to them that their children’s teachers, principles and best friend’s parents be Christians. People flee religious diversity just as hard as they flee racial diversity—oftentimes harder.

    Unless you feel the call to be a missionary then why on Earth would you not prefer Christian neighbors over all other possible options? Why would you not even prefer they be the same denomination as you?

  2. Multiple religions coexisting in one society don’t seem to work even if they’re slimy different denominations of the same faith. You either end up with constant strife between the group’s or drift into the agnosticism we have today-and still have constant strife between the groups. The total freedom of conscience thing has been tried and it doesn’t work very well.

  3. If any man will do His will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself. – John 7:17, …for the LORD detests the perverse, but He is a friend to the upright. – Proverbs 3:32, Evil men do not understand justice, but those who seek the LORD comprehend fully. – Proverbs 28:5, Many will be purified, made spotless, and refined, but the wicked will continue to act wickedly. None of the wicked will understand, but the wise will understand. – Daniel 12:10, But whoever practices the truth comes into the Light, so that it may be seen clearly that what he has done has been accomplished in God. – John 3:21, Why do you not understand what I am saying? It is because you are unable to accept My message.
    – John 8:43