Legal Toleration for Belief and Behaviour

History of Political Thought 31 (1):87-106 (2010)
While most Christians have come to accept that there should be no attempt on the part of the state to coerce strict matters of conscience, many actively support the state coercively interfering with certain modes of conduct that violate God’s moral law. The development of this stance occurred during the seventeenth century English toleration debates. Then, tolerationists argued that there should be toleration for dissenting Protestant denominations, and eventually for Catholics, heretics, and atheists, too. But very few strict biblical Christians, even today, endorse extending legal toleration, for example, to homosexual conduct or same-sex marriage. Two strategies, attributable to Locke, fail to support this asymmetry between religious error and the characteristic types of ‘Christian immorality’. I draw on arguments from the toleration debates to show that the boundaries of legal toleration should be extended to include these violations of divine moral law, and that strict biblical Christians should agree.
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