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Os Guinness on Tolerance Versus Free Exercise

Toleration was certainly the term of choice in matters of religious liberty before American independence. It had been made popular by writings such as John Locke’s A Letter Concerning Toleration and copied into the first draft of the Virginia Declaration of Rights in 1776 by George Mason. Young James Madison objected, however, and when he succeeded in changing the word tolerance to the words free exercise, he advanced the cause of religious liberty by light-years. Tolerance is too condescending and uncertain. It is the gesture of the strong toward the weak, the government toward the citizenry, and the majority toward the minority. Free exercise, by contrast, is inalienable because it is the inalienable right of everyone, the minority no less than the majority, the weak as well as the poor, and the citizens just as much as the government.