Front Page Titles (by Subject) chapter ten: On the Persecution of a Religious Belief - Principles of Politics Applicable to All Governments
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chapter ten: On the Persecution of a Religious Belief - Benjamin Constant, Principles of Politics Applicable to All Governments 
Principles of Politics Applicable to a all Governments, trans. Dennis O’Keeffe, ed. Etienne Hofmann, Introduction by Nicholas Capaldi (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2003).
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On the Persecution of a Religious Belief
Finally, the government acts harmfully when it proscribes a religion because it thinks it dangerous, and the harm will not be any the less when the government’s judgment is right. When it punishes the culpable acts a religion causes to be committed, not as religious acts but as culpable ones, it will easily succeed in repressing them. If it attacked them as religious, it would turn them into duties for the fanatical, and if it wanted to reach right back to the thinking which is their source, it would become involved in a labyrinth of endless persecutions, harassments, and iniquities. The only way to weaken an opinion is to establish free discussion. Now, anyone who speaks of free enquiry speaks of distance from government of any type, the absence of any collective intervention. Such enquiry is essentially individual.
In order for persecution, which naturally revolts sensibilities and binds them to the persecuted belief, on the contrary to succeed in destroying this belief, minds must be debased, and not only must the religion one wishes to destroy be subjected to attack, but so must all moral and virtuous sentiments. To persuade a man to despise or abandon one of his fellow creatures whose misfortune is due to an opinion, that is to say, unjustly, to set him today to abandon the doctrine he professed yesterday, because it is suddenly threatened, you have to stifle all the justice and  pride in him. To restrict the harsh measures taken against a religion to its ministers, as has been done among us, is to trace an illusory limit. These measures soon attack all those who share the same doctrine, and next they attack all those who pity the misfortune of the oppressed. “Let no one tell me,” said M. de Clermont-Tonnerre in 1791, and events have doubly justified his prediction, “let no one tell me that in pursuing to the bitter end priests said to be refractory, we will extinguish all opposition. I hope the opposite precisely because of my regard for the French nation. For any nation which gives way to force in questions of conscience is a nation so vile, so corrupted, that nothing can be hoped from it, either by way of reason or freedom.”10
Superstition is deadly only when it is protected or threatened. Do not provoke it with injustices; simply take away from it any means of doing harm by its actions. First it will become an innocent obsession, and soon it will extinguish itself, for lack of the ability to appeal by way of its sufferings or command by virtue of its alliance with government. To refuse its mercy and support to persecuted men because they are persecuted thus for what seems to us an error, is to give oneself over to sentiments of inexcusable presumption and fanaticism. These men are defending their rights. Error or truth, the thought of man is his most sacred property. Error or truth, the tyrants are equally guilty when they attack it. He who proscribes superstitious speculation in the name of philosophy and he who proscribes independent thought in the name of God, are equally deserving of the execration of men of good will.  Allow me to finish with another quotation from M. de Clermont-Tonnerre. He will not be accused of exaggerated principles. Although he was a friend of freedom, or perhaps because he was a friend of freedom, he was almost always rebuffed by both parties in the Constituent Assembly. He died a victim of his moderation. His opinion, I think, will carry some weight. “Religion and the state,” he said, “are two quite distinct and separate things, whose bringing together can only distort both one and the other.11 Man has a relationship with his creator. He constructs for himself or is given various ideas about this relationship. This system of ideas is called religion. Each person’s religion is therefore his opinion of his relationship to God. Each man’s opinion being free, he may take up or not take up such religion.12 The opinion of the minority cannot be subordinated to that of the majority. No opinion can therefore be commanded by social consensus. What is true of religion is also true of cults. The cult is what each person professes in conjunction with those of like religious opinion. The forms of the cult are the agreed rite among those who profess the same religion. The acts of the cult are the stern duty of the man holding the religious opinions which prescribe them. Thus the cult and its acts share in the nature and the freedom of opinion of which they are the necessary consequence. Thus what is true of opinion is also true of the cult and its acts.13 Religion touches all times, all places, all governments. Its sanctuary is the consciousness of man, and consciousness is the sole faculty which man can never sacrifice to a social convention.14 Religion will not lend itself to any association, any relation of supremacy or submission with political  government. . . .15 The political body must not have dominion over any religion. It must not reject any of them unless the cult in question is a threat to social order.”16
On Legal Safeguards
[10. ]Stanislas-Marie de Clermont-Tonnerre, Réflexions sur le fanatisme, in Recueil des opinions de Stanislas-Marie de Clermont-Tonnerre, Paris, Migneret, 1791, t. IV, pp. 98–99.
[11. ]Stanislas-Marie de Clermont-Tonnerre, Opinion sur la propriété des biens du clergé, novembre 1789, in Recueil des opinions . . . , op. cit., t. II, p. 71.
[12. ]Ibid., pp. 74–75. Constant has not given us the following passage: “he can keep it or leave it. If opinions are free, no one can bind the opinions of others. No one can bind even his own, for being free, he reserves the right to abandon it if he judges it wrong.”
[13. ]Stanislas-Marie de Clermont-Tonnerre, Opinion sur la propriété . . . , op. cit, pp. 75–76.
[14. ]Ibid., p. 73.
[15. ]Ibid., pp. 73–74. The actual text has: “If religion precludes any association, any relationship of supremacy or subjection with political government, the social pact admits for its part no religious clause.”
[16. ]Ibid., p. 72. The original text is: “I maintain that the social body is by its nature a stranger to religion, such that it cannot profess any religion, and that it cannot reject any unless this religion is a menace to public order. . . .”