The Golden Thread of Religious Liberty: Comparing the Thought of John Locke and James Madison

KEVIN VANCE

OXFORD JOURNAL OF LAW AND RELIGION, Volume 6, Issue 2

Abstract: The views of the American founders on religious liberty provide fertile ground for a range of different interpretations of the extent of legal protections for religious liberty and how religious liberty is justified. Although John Locke’s arguments for religious liberty were influential on the American founders, several founders, including James Madison, departed from or developed Locke’s arguments in a way that emphasizes how a human being’s religious obligations can limit the power of civil government. Contemporary religious liberty scholars have emphasized Madison’s apparent departure from Locke in order to help justify legal exemptions for religious practices. Although Locke did not directly link the duty of human beings to worship God according to one’s conscience to the right of religious liberty, I argue that each part of Madison’s argument is already present in Locke.