Toleration Act 1688

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The Toleration Act 1689[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Status: Repealed
Text of statute as originally enacted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 Toleration Act 1689 (1 Will & Mary c 18), also referred to as the Act of Toleration,[3] was an Act of the Parliament of England, which received the royal assent on 24 May 1689.[4][5]

The Act allowed freedom of worship to Nonconformists who had pledged to the oaths of Allegiance and Supremacy and rejected transubstantiation, i.e., Protestants who dissented from the Church of England such as Baptists and Congregationalists but not to Catholics. Nonconformists were allowed their own places of worship and their own teachers, if they accepted certain oaths of allegiance.

It purposely did not apply to Catholics, nontrinitarians[6] and atheists.[7] The Act continued the existing social and political disabilities for Dissenters, including their exclusion from political office and also from universities.

Dissenters were required to register their meeting locations and were forbidden from meeting in private homes. Any preachers who dissented had to be licensed.

Between 1772 and 1774, Reverend Doctor Edward Pickard gathered together dissenting ministers in order that the terms of the Toleration Act for dissenting clergy could be modified. Under his leadership, Parliament twice considered bills to modify the law. Both were unsuccessful and it was not until Pickard and many had lost interest that a new attempt was made in 1779.[8]

The Act was amended (1779) by substituting belief in Scripture for belief in the Anglican (doctrinal) articles, but penalties on property remained.

Penalties against Unitarians were finally removed in the Doctrine of the Trinity Act 1813.


With fears that James II of England and his male heir would establish a Catholic dynasty the previous violent divisions among different English Protestant sects were put aside to focus on their common enemy - Catholicism. A political and religious elite among this coalition invited William, the Stadholder of the Netherlands who was married to James' daughter Mary (who had been raised Protestant) to invade the nation and seize the crown. The resulting Revolution of 1688 (commonly referred to as the Glorious Revolution) resulted in success for William and Mary who became sovereigns. A series of legal act assured a constitutional settlement of this new situation; these include the Bill of Rights 1689, the Mutiny Act (1689), the Act of Toleration (1689), and later the Act of Settlement 1701 and the Act of Union 1707.[9]

Historians (like Kenneth Pearl) see 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".[9] Both the Whig and Tory parties that had rallied around William and Mary had promised nonconformists that such an act would be granted if the revolution succeeded. James II had issued an act of toleration but the nonconformists believed their future more secure if the Sovereign was a Protestant.[9]

Catholics and Unitarians were not hunted down after the Act was passed but they still had no right to assemble and pray.[9]

As there still remained a Test Act, non-Anglicans could not sit in Parliament (this included all Protestant non-Conformists, Jews, Catholics, and Unitarians). The Test Act remained in force until the nineteenth century.[9]


Historians (such as John J. Patrick) see John Locke's four letters advocating religious toleration (written in 1685 and published in 1689) as "the philosophical foundation for the English Act of Toleration of 1689".[7] While Locke had advocated coexistence between the Church of England (the official state church) and dissenting Protestant denominations (including Congregationalists, Baptists, Presbyterians, and Quakers) he had excluded Catholics from toleration - the same policy that the Act of Toleration enacted.[7]

Implementation in English colonies

The terms of the Act of Toleration within the British colonies in America were applied either by charter or by acts by royal governors.[7] The ideas of toleration as advocated by Locke (which excluded Catholics) became accepted through most of the colonies, even in the Congregational strongholds within New England (which had previously punished or excluded dissenters).[7] The colonies of Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Delaware, and New Jersey, went further than the Act of Toleration by outlawing the establishment of any church and allowing a greater religious diversity.[7] Within the colonies Catholics were allowed to freely practice their religion only in Pennsylvania.[7]


Section 5

This section, from "bee it" to "aforesaid that" was repealed by section 1 of, and Part I of the Schedule to, the Statute Law Revision Act 1888.

In this section, the words "as aforesaid" were repealed by section 1 of, and Schedule 1 to, the Statute Law Revision Act 1948.

Section 8

This section, from "bee it" to "aforesaid that" was repealed by section 1 of, and Part I of the Schedule to, the Statute Law Revision Act 1888.

Section 15

This section, from "bee it" to "aforesaid" was repealed by section 1 of, and Part I of the Schedule to, the Statute Law Revision Act 1888.

In this section, the words "after the tenth day of June" were repealed by section 1 of, and Schedule 1 to, the Statute Law Revision Act 1948.

Section 18

Section 6 of the Ecclesiastical Courts Jurisdiction Act 1860 provided that nothing contained thereinbefore in that Act was to be taken to repeal or alter section 18 of the Toleration Act 1688.


The whole Act, except section 5 and so much of section 8 as specified the service and offices from which certain persons were exempt and section 15, was repealed by section 1 of, and Part II of Schedule 1 to, the Promissory Oaths Act 1871.

The whole Act, so far as unrepealed, was repealed by section 1 of, and Part II of the Schedule to, the Statute Law (Repeals) Act 1969.

Later developments

Toleration of worship was later extended to Protestants who did not believe in Trinitarian doctrine in the Unitarians Relief Act 1813. Catholics were allowed to worship under strict conditions through the Roman Catholic Relief Act 1791. As time went on, oaths and tests that barred non-conformists and Catholics from public offices, school keeping and owning land were rescinded by laws such as Roman Catholic Relief Act, 1778, the Roman Catholic Charities Act 1832, the Test Abolition Act 1867, the Promissory Oaths Act 1868, the Promissory Oaths Act 1871 and the Oaths Act 1978. The Roman Catholic Relief Act 1829 allowed Catholics to be elected to Parliament and most Crown offices, while the Jews Relief Act 1858 acted similarly for members of Judaism. The Religious Disabilities Act 1846 ended restrictions on Catholics for education, charities, and property - though Oxford, Cambridge and Durham universities were allowed to ban Catholics until the passage of the University Tests Act 1871. By the passage of the Places of Worship Registration Act 1855 an optional system of registration for non-Anglican places of worship was passed which gave certain legal and fiscal advantages for those that registered, and "alternative religion was not only lawful, but was often facilitated by the law."[10]

See also


  1. The citation of this Act by this short title was authorised by section 5 of, and Schedule 2 to, the Statute Law Revision Act 1948. Due to the repeal of those provisions, it is now authorised by section 19(2) of the Interpretation Act 1978.
  2. These words are printed against this Act in the second column of Schedule 2 to the Statute Law Revision Act 1948, which is headed "Title".
  3. Mews, John. The Digest of English Case Law Containing the Reported Decisions of the Superior Courts: And a Selection from Those of the Irish Courts [from 1557] to the End of 1897. Sweet and Maxwell. 1898. Volume 12. Page 101.
  4. House of Lords Journal: 24 May 1689: record of royal assent British History Online
  5. Text of the Act British History Online
  6. Bromley, John Selwyn (1970). The new Cambridge modern history. Cambridge University Press. p. 210. ISBN 0-521-07524-6. OCLC 58643836.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 7.6 John J. Patrick, Gerald P. Long (1999). Constitutional Debates on Freedom of Religion: A Documentary History. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. John Stephens, ‘Pickard, Edward (1714–1778)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 accessed 18 Feb 2010
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 Kenneth Pearl (2011). Cracking the AP European History Exam. Princeton Review, Inc.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. Russell Sandberg (2011). Law and Religion. Cambridge University Press.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links