The World's Famous Orations/Volume 7/On Liberty of Worship




Nothing should make us prejudge the safety of the State except actual conditions. We have appeared divided among ourselves, but the instant we occupy ourselves with the good of mankind we are in accord. Vergniaud has just told you grand and immortal truths. The constituent Assembly, embarrassed by a king, by the prejudices which still enchain the nation, and by deep-seated intolerance, could not offend established principles, but still did much for liberty in consecrating the principle of toleration. Today the soil of liberty is clear, and we owe it to the French people to give their government a base, eternal and pure. Yes, we shall say to them: Frenchmen, you have the right to adore the divinity which seems to you worthy of your reverence.

The liberty of worship which your laws can contemplate can only be the liberty of individuals to assemble in their own way to render homage to the Diety. Such liberty can only be attained by legal and police regulation, but certainly you do not wish to insert a regulating law in a declaration of right; the right of freedom of worship, a sacred right, will be protected by your laws, which being in harmony with its principles shall have no other object than to guarantee it. Human reason can not retrograde. We have advanced too far for the people to believe that freedom of worship is not theirs, tho they may not see the principle of this liberty graven on the table of your laws.

If superstition seems still to have some share in the disturbances of the Republic, it is because it has been the policy of our enemies always to employ it; but mark: everywhere the people, freed from malevolent instigation, recognize that any one who would interpose between them and their God is an impostor. Everywhere the deportation of fanatical and rebellious priests is demanded. Beware of misconjecturing national opinion; beware of inserting a clause which should contain this unjust presumption; in passing to the order of the day adopt a sort of "previous question" upon the priests, which will do you honor in the eyes of your fellow citizens and of posterity.

  1. From a speech in the Convention on April 18, 1793. Translated for this edition by Scott Robinson.

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