The Guardian recently announced the publication of an obscure manuscript by John Locke—one of particular interest because, as its title indicates, Locke therein lists “Reasons for Tolerateing [sic] Papists Equally with Others.”1 Although Locke wrote in defense of religious freedom, his well-known works on the subject indicate that he didn’t think it safe to tolerate papists (i.e., Catholics).

The father of liberalism attacked many Roman Catholic Church doctrines. Of the idea that the pope is “the sole infallible interpreter” of the Bible, he asked, does God “address men in such a way that he cannot be understood without an interpreter?”2 No, he answered. He held that the scriptures are “so clear and unambiguous that virtually nobody can doubt them.”3

Yet, although he readily granted that the ideas of some religious sects “are false and absurd,” he held that “the business of laws is not to provide for the truth of opinions, but for the safety and security of the commonwealth and of every particular man’s goods and person.”4 As Thomas Jefferson later put the point, “The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”5 . . .


1. Alison Flood, “Unknown Text by John Locke Reveals Roots of ‘Foundational Democratic Ideas,’” Guardian, September 3, 2019,

2. Roger Woolhouse, Locke: A Biography (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 49.

3. Woolhouse, Locke, 50.

4. John Locke, Two Treatises of Government and A Letter Concerning Toleration (Overland Park, KS: Neeland Media, 2009), 168.

5. Thomas Jefferson, Writings (New York: Literary Classics of the United States, 1984), 285.

6. Locke, Two Treatises, 170–71.

7. Jon Hersey, “John Locke: The Father of Liberalism,” The Objective Standard 14, no. 3 (Fall 2019),

8. J. C. Walmsley and Felix Weldmann, “John Locke and the Toleration of Catholics: A New Manuscript,” The Historical Journal (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019), 20,

9. Walmsley and Weldmann, “John Locke and the Toleration of Catholics,” 23, spelling and punctuation modernized.

10. Walmsley and Weldmann, “John Locke and the Toleration of Catholics,” 18.

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