Toleration Act 1688

article - Toleration Act 1688

The Toleration Act 1688 (1 Will & Mary c 18), also referred to as the Act of Toleration,[3] was an Act of the Parliament of England. Passed in the aftermath of the Glorious Revolution, it received royal assent on 24 May 1689.[4][5]

United Kingdom legislation
The Toleration Act 1688[1]

Long title An Act for Exempting their Majestyes Protestant Subjects dissenting from the Church of England from the Penalties of certaine Lawes.[2]
Citation 1 Will & Mary c 18
Royal assent 24 May 1689
Status: Repealed
Text of statute as originally enacted

The Act allowed for freedom of worship to nonconformists who had pledged to the oaths of Allegiance and Supremacy and rejected transubstantiation, i.e., to Protestants who dissented from the Church of England such as Baptists, Congregationalists or English Presbyterians, but not to Roman Catholics. Nonconformists were allowed their own places of worship and their own schoolteachers, so long as they accepted certain oaths of allegiance.

The Act intentionally did not apply to Roman Catholics, Jews, nontrinitarians,[6] and atheists.[7] It continued the existing social and political disabilities for dissenters, including their exclusion from holding political offices and also from the universities. Dissenters were required to register their meeting houses and were forbidden from meeting in private homes. Any preachers who dissented had to be licensed.

Between 1772 and 1774, Edward Pickard gathered together dissenting ministers, to campaign for the terms of the Toleration Act for dissenting clergy to be modified. Under his leadership, Parliament twice considered bills to modify the law, but both were unsuccessful and it was not until Pickard and many others had ended their efforts that a new attempt was made in 1779.[8] The Act was amended in 1779 by substituting belief in Scripture for belief in the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Anglican churches, but some penalties on holding property remained. Penalties against Unitarians were finally removed in the Doctrine of the Trinity Act 1813.

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William III. giving his royal assent to the Toleration Act.

During both the English Commonwealth and the reign of Charles II, nonconforming dissenters including Roman Catholics, were subject to religious persecution and precluded from holding official office. Following the restoration of Charles II, Anglican leaders debated in correspondence and public sermon the extent to which the Anglican church should allow doctrinal latitude; this debate was related to the corresponding debate on broadening church membership and tolerating dissenters.[9] The succession of the Roman Catholic James II was challenged on religious grounds prior to his accession in what became known as the Exclusion Crisis and after he took the crown in 1686 in the Monmouth Rebellion. However, the Tory leadership of the Anglican church initially supported his right to rule based on the theology of active obedience to the monarch. James II sought a repeal of the Test Acts, which imposed various civil disabilities on both Catholics and Protestant non-conformists, to broaden his political support and allow for the appointment of Roman Catholics to civilian and military roles. Failing to secure parliamentary support, James II’s attempt to dispense with the Test Acts through the 1687 and 1688 Declarations of Indulgence helped spark the constitutional crises that culminated in the Glorious Revolution and the accession of William and Mary, who became joint sovereigns. A series of Acts of parliament assured a new constitutional settlement of this situation; these include the Bill of Rights 1689, the Crown and Parliament Recognition Act 1689, the Mutiny Act 1689, the Toleration Act 1688, and later the Act of Settlement 1701 and the Act of Union 1707.[10]

The historian Kenneth Pearl sees the Act of Toleration as “in many ways a compromise bill. To get nonconformists’ (Protestants who were not members of the Church of England) support in the crucial months of 1688”.[10] Both the Whig and Tory parties that had rallied around William and Mary had promised nonconformists that such an act would be enacted if the revolution succeeded. James II had himself issued an act of toleration, but nonconformists believed James II’s efforts to undermine their civil liberties and circumvent parliament placed the religious liberties provided via the Declarations of Indulgence at risk.[11]

Catholics and Unitarians were not hunted down after the Act was passed but they still had no right to assemble and pray.[10] As there still remained a Test Act, non-Anglicans (including all Protestant non-Conformists, Jews, Catholics, and Unitarians) could not sit in Parliament even following the passage of the Toleration Act 1688.[12] The Toleration Act of 1712, passed following the union between Scotland and England, granted limited toleration, specifically the right to worship for Scottish Episcopalians who prayed for the monarch and used the English Book of Common Prayer.[13] Unitarians were only granted toleration after the Doctrine of the Trinity Act 1813;[12] prior to that time, denying the Trinity was a capital offence in Scotland.[12]

The Test Act remained in force until the nineteenth century.[10]

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