Quotations about:
    freedom of conscience


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It is by the goodness of God that in our country we have those three unspeakably precious things: freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, and the prudence never to exercise either of them.

Mark Twain (1835-1910) American writer [pseud. of Samuel Clemens]
Following the Equator, ch. 20, Epigraph (1897)
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Cited as from Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar. Sometimes misquoted "... never to practice either."
 
Added on 13-Dec-23 | Last updated 13-Dec-23
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The civil rights of none shall be abridged on account of religious belief or worship, nor shall any national religion be established, nor shall the full and equal rights of conscience be in any manner, or on any pretext, infringed.

The people shall not be deprived or abridged of their right to speak, to write, or to publish their sentiments; and the freedom of the press, as one of the great bulwarks of liberty, shall be inviolable.

The people shall not be restrained from peaceably assembling and consulting for their common good; nor from applying to the Legislature by petitions, or remonstrances, for redress of their grievances.

James Madison (1751-1836) American statesman, political theorist, US President (1809-17)
Speech Introducing Proposed Constitutional Amendments (1789-06-08)
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Speech before the House of Representatives, proposing a Bill of Rights amending the US Constitution. This was the first draft of the text that would go on to become the First Amendment.
 
Added on 21-Apr-23 | Last updated 21-Apr-23
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You may force men, by interest or punishment, to say or swear they believe, and to act as if they believed; you can go no farther.

Jonathan Swift (1667-1745) English writer and churchman
“Thoughts on Religion” (1726)
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Added on 17-Jan-23 | Last updated 17-Jan-23
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Being tolerant does not mean that I share another one’s belief. But it does mean I acknowledge another one’s right to believe, and obey, his own conscience.

Viktor Frankl (1905-1997) German-American psychologist, writer
The Will to Meaning, Part 1, ch. 3 (1969)
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Added on 6-Apr-22 | Last updated 6-Apr-22
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No man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer, on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
“Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom” (18 Jun 1779; enacted 16 Jan 1786)
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Added on 28-Mar-22 | Last updated 4-Jul-22
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Our secularism is hard-won, the product of centuries of political, intellectual, and sometimes physical courage. Secularism is the institutionalization of doubt, or more precisely of respect for doubt. It is harder to love doubt than to love freedom. So we are grudging about our secularism, and some of us are a little ashamed of it. Maybe it takes Rushdie’s nightmare and Khomeini’s rage to remind us how precious it is, and how fiercely it must be guarded.

Hendrik Hertzberg (b. 1943) American journalist, editor, speech writer, political commentator
“TRB from Washington,” The New Republic (20 Mar 1989)
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Added on 25-Feb-22 | Last updated 25-Feb-22
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Let us believe that the whole of truth can never do harm to the whole of virtue. Trust it. And remember, that, in order to get the whole of truth, you must allow every man, right or wrong, freely to utter his conscience, and protect him in so doing.

Wendell Phillips (1811-1884) American abolitionist, orator, social activist
“The Boston Mob,” speech, Antislavery Meeting, Boston (21 Oct 1855)
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"On the Twentieth Anniversary of the Mob of October 21, 1835."
 
Added on 16-Mar-21 | Last updated 16-Mar-21
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Conscience and the press ought to be unrestrained, not because men have a right to deviate from the exact line that duty prescribes, but because society, the aggregate of individuals, has no right to assume the prerogative of an infallible judge, and to undertake authoritatively to prescribe to its members in matters of pure speculation.

William Godwin (1756-1836) English journalist, political philosopher, novelist
Enquiry Concerning Political Justice, Book 2, ch. 5 (1793)
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Added on 20-Nov-17 | Last updated 20-Nov-17
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But opinion, & the just maintenance of it shall never be a crime in my view; nor bring injury on the individual

Jefferson - opinion - wist_info quote

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to Samuel Adams (29 Mar 1801)
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Sometimes misattributed to George Washington.
 
Added on 1-Jul-16 | Last updated 2-Aug-22
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I also give it in charge to you to avoid all disrespect of the religion of the country, and its ceremonies. Prudence, policy, and a true Christian spirit, will lead us to look wit compassion up their errors without insulting them. While we are contending for our own liberty, we should be very cautious not to violate the rights of conscience in others, ever considering that God alone is the judge of the hearts of men, and to him only in this case are they answerable.

George Washington (1732-1799) American military leader, Founding Father, US President (1789-1797)
“Charge to the Northern Expeditionary Force,” letter to Benedict Arnold (14 Sep 1775)
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Regarding the invasion of (Catholic) Quebec, Canada.
 
Added on 26-Jun-15 | Last updated 24-Jun-15
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I never will, by any word or act, bow to the shrine of intolerance, or admit a right of enquiry into the religious opinions of others. on the contrary we are bound, you, I, & every one, to make common cause, even with error itself, to maintain the common right of freedom of conscience. we ought with one heart and one hand to hew down the daring and dangerous efforts of those who would seduce the public opinion to substitute itself into that tyranny over religious faith which the laws have so justly abdicated.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to Edward Dowse (19 Apr 1803)
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Added on 11-Oct-12 | Last updated 25-Apr-22
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Well aware that the opinions and belief of men depend not on their own will, but follow involuntarily the evidence proposed to their minds; that Almighty God hath created the mind free, and manifested his supreme will that free it shall remain by making it altogether insusceptible of restraint; that all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments, or burthens, or by civil incapacitations, tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and are a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, who being lord both of body and mind, yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as was in his Almighty power to do, but to extend it by its influence on reason alone; that the impious presumption of legislators and rulers, civil as well as ecclesiastical, who, being themselves but fallible and uninspired men, have assumed dominion over the faith of others, setting up their own opinions and modes of thinking as the only true and infallible, and as such endeavoring to impose them on others, hath established and maintained false religions over the greatest part of the world and through all time ….

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
“Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom,” Preamble (18 Jun 1779; enacted 16 Jan 1786)
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During final debate around the bill's passage:
  • the first clause was struck, changing the beginning to "Whereas Almighty God ...."
  • the phrase "and manifested his supreme will that free it shall remain by making it altogether insusceptible of restraint" was struck.
  • the phrase "but to extend it by its influence on reason alone" was struck.
See Jefferson's discussion about a failed amendment to the preamble here.
 
Added on 26-Jul-12 | Last updated 4-Jul-22
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Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man & his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between Church & State. adhering to this expression of the supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.

Jefferson - a wall of separation between church & state - wist.info quote

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to the Danbury Baptists (1 Jan 1802)
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Addressed to "messrs. Nehemiah Dodge, Ephraim Robbins, & Stephen S. Nelson, a committee of the Danbury Baptist association in the state of Connecticut."
 
Added on 3-Dec-10 | Last updated 3-Aug-22
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Conscience can’t be compelled.

Thomas Fuller (1654-1734) English physician, preacher, aphorist, writer
Gnomologia: Adages and Proverbs, #1144 (1732)
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Added on 29-Jul-10 | Last updated 26-Jan-21
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It behooves every man, who values liberty of conscience for himself, to resist invasions of it in the case of others; or their case may, by change of circumstances, become his own. It behooves him, too, in his own case, to give no example of concession, betraying the common right of independent opinion, by answering questions of faith, which the laws have left between God and himself.

Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) American political philosopher, polymath, statesman, US President (1801-09)
Letter to Benjamin Rush (21 Apr 1803)
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Added on 5-Jul-10 | Last updated 12-May-22
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For why should my liberty be subject to the judgment of someone else’s conscience?

The Bible (The New Testament) (AD 1st - 2nd C) Christian sacred scripture
1 Corinthians 10:29 [NRSV (1989)]
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On not eating food which someone else considers religiously wrong to eat. Alternate translations:

For why is my liberty judged of another man's conscience?
[KJV (1611)]

Why should my freedom depend on somebody else’s conscience?
[Jerusalem (1966)]

“Well, then,” someone asks, “why should my freedom to act be limited by another person's conscience?
[GNT (1976)]

 
Added on 25-Apr-08 | Last updated 5-Sep-23
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How has the church in every age, when in authority, defended itself? Always by a statute against blasphemy, against argument, against free speech. And there never was such a statute that did not stain the book that it was in and that did not certify to the savagery of the men who passed it.

Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1899) American lawyer, agnostic, orator
Trial of C.B. Reynolds for blasphemy (May 1887)
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Added on 28-Mar-08 | Last updated 9-Feb-16
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Why should man be afraid to think, and why should he fear to express his thoughts? Is it possible that an infinite Deity is unwilling that a man should investigate the phenomena by which he is surrounded? Is it possible that a god delights in threatening and terrifying men? What glory, what honor and renown a god must win on such a field! The ocean raving at a drop; a star envious of a candle; the sun jealous of a fire-fly.

Robert Green Ingersoll (1833-1899) American lawyer, agnostic, orator
“Heretics and Heresies” (1874)
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Added on 7-Feb-08 | Last updated 2-Feb-16
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We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty.

Edward R. Murrow (1908-1965) American journalist
See It Now (7 Mar 1954)

Episode dealing with Sen. Joe McCarthy's of Communists in the US.
 
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 21-Apr-21
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