John Locke: "Letter Concerning Toleration" on Why the Civil Magistrate Has No Jurisdiction Over Souls

January 1, 1689

[…T]he whole Jurisdiction of the Magistrate reaches only to these civil Concernments; and…all Civil Power, Right, and Dominion, is bounded and …neither can nor ought in any manner to be extended to the Salvation of Souls…

First, Because the Care of Souls is not committed to the Civil Magistrate any more than to other Men. It is not committed unto him, I say, by God; because it appears not that God has ever given any such Authority to one Man over another, as to compell any one to his Religion. Nor can any such Power be vested in the Magistrate by the Consent of the People; because no man can so far abandon the care of his own Salvation, as blindly to leave it to the choice of any other, whether Prince or Subject, to prescribe to him what Faith or Worship he shall embrace. For no Man can, if he would, conform his Faith to the Dictates, of another….

In the second place. The care of Souls cannot belong to the Civil Magistrate, because his Power consists only in outward force: But true and saving Religion consists in the inward perswasion of the Mind; without which nothing can be acceptable to God.

In the third place. The care of the Salvation of Mens Souls cannot belong to the Magistrate; because, though the rigour of Laws and the force of Penalties were capable to convince and change Mens minds, yet would not that help at all to the Salvation of their Souls. For there being but one Truth, one way to heaven; what hopes is there that more Men would be led into it, if they had no other Rule to follow but the Religion of the Court; and were put under a necessity to quit the Light of their own Reason; to oppose the Dictates of their own Consciences; and blindly to resign up themselves to the Will of their Governors, and to the Religion, which either Ignorance, Ambition, or Superstition had chanced to establish in the Countries where they were born?

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