Little Bits of History

Declaration of Indulgence

Posted in History by patriciahysell on April 4, 2014
King James II of England

King James II of England

April 4, 1687: King James II of England made the Declaration of Indulgence to England. The Indulgence was first issued in Scotland in February and then in England on this day. The premise for the proclamation was to establish freedom of religion on the British Isles. The Indulgence negated or suspended the penal laws enforcing practice in the official Church of England. It allowed people to worship in their homes and chapels in the ways their faith led them. It ended requirements to affirm religious oaths to the Church of England before one could obtain a position within the government.

The royal decree withdrawing the enforcement of penal laws granted freedom to various Christian denominations. The original declaration in Scotland granted freedom to Roman Catholics but did not offer the same freedoms to Presbyterians who refused to accept it. The King reissued the Indulgence in June and gave the same freedoms to the Presbyterians that had previously been granted to the Catholics. The Covenanter still held out as they did not want to also affirm the King’s absolute sovereign authority, royal prerogative, and power. They reasoned that if the King could grant this Indulgence, he or an ensuing Royal could rescind it.

There was also the fear of the “slippery slope” involved. If the King could accept the practice of other Christian religions within the borders, would Muslims, Jews, and pagans also be accepted? And what would become of the country if any religion could be practiced? Also in contention was the idea that the King could overrule a law placed by Parliament. This led many practicing Anglicans to be suspicious of the law. William Penn supported the Declaration of Indulgence and was seen by some as the instigator behind it. The Londoner had received a land grant from King Charles II in 1681 in order to settle a debt owed to his father. This land included what is today Pennsylvania and Delaware.

Penn, a Quaker, was able to gain the support of colonists in the area today named after him. They also enjoyed the idea of religious freedom and ability to practice their faith without interference from the state. The Dutch, Swedish, and English colonists in Delaware did not have the same loyalty to Penn as  others and they began to almost immediately petition for their own Assembly. Much of Penn’s debate on religious freedoms stemmed from his firm belief that as a pacifist Quaker, he and his sect had no political aspirations (unlike the Puritans) and should be given the opportunity to practice their beliefs without interference. Eventually this spread to the acceptance, at least by King James II, of Christian freedom of religious practice.

A just laicism allows religious freedom. The state does not impose religion but rather gives space to religions with a responsibility toward civil society, and therefore it allows these religions to be factors in building up society. – Pope Benedict XVI

Religious freedom is too sacred a right to be restricted or prohibited in any degree without convincing proof that a legitimate interest of the state is in grave danger. – Frank Murphy

Religious tolerance is something we should all practice; however, there have been more persecution and atrocities committed in the name of religion and religious freedom than anything else. – Walter Koenig

Usually, it is not my habit to address religious issues on the floor. I strongly believe in a person’s right to religious freedom, as well as the separation of church and state. – Alcee Hastings

Also on this day: US Flag – In 1818, the US adopted a new flag.
Robert Walpole – In 1721, Walpole became England’s first Prime Minister.
Strike While the Iron is Hot – In 1871, Mrs. Potts’ Sad Irons were patented.
Tippecanoe – In 1841, the first sitting US President died.


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