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date: 14 December 2018

Abstract and Keywords

What has been called secular government in the United Kingdom and North America emerged from a series of debates about religious freedom and toleration, which reached their climax in seventeenth-century England. John Locke is often considered the hero of that climax, and his resolution to religion–politics conflict is now taken for granted as the basis of secular government in the United States, England, and Canada. It continues to influence Anglo-American political thought for both good and ill. Despite its success, the solution is imperfect. Subsequent modifications—including minor tweaks by various American Founders and a more recent re-appropriation by John Rawls—have failed to perfect it. Its most notable imperfection is a naïve hope that all imaginable future theopolitical disputes will be solved by abstract, neutral principles, specifiable-in advance of the disputes themselves. This leads to animosity and accusations of bias and call for ad hoc compromises.

Keywords: secular government, religious freedom, toleration, America, England, liberalism, rights

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