When wrote a A Letter Concerning Toleration, it is doubtful that he thought he was writing one of the formative documents of our republic. In the life of a man, 1689 is a long way from 1776. What concerned Locke was the strife between Christians, Jews, Muslims, and even Pagans.
Was Locke some kind of perfectly tolerant, saintly soul? Not exactly.
Lastly, those are not at all to be tolerated who deny the being of a God. Promises, covenants, and oaths, which are the bonds of human society, can have no hold upon an atheist. The taking away of God, though but even in thought, dissolves all; besides also, those that by their atheism undermine and destroy all religion, can have no pretence of religion whereupon to challenge the privilege of a toleration. As for other practical opinions, though not absolutely free from all error, if they do not tend to establish domination over others, or civil impunity to the Church in which they are taught, there can be no reason why they should not be tolerated. (from here)
Locke drew the line at Atheists. Nevertheless, Locke’s letter helped to establish an important principle. Here is the meat of it.
It is the duty of the civil magistrate, by the impartial execution of equal laws, to secure unto all the people in general and to every one of his subjects in particular the just possession of these things belonging to this life. If anyone presume to violate the laws of public justice and equity, established for the preservation of those things, his presumption is to be checked by the fear of punishment, consisting of the deprivation or diminution of those civil interests, or goods, which otherwise he might and ought to enjoy. But seeing no man does willingly suffer himself to be punished by the deprivation of any part of his goods, and much less of his liberty or life, therefore, is the magistrate armed with the force and strength of all his subjects, in order to the punishment of those that violate any other man’s rights. (from here)
Locke believed that government does not exist to tell us what to believe. He argued that government doesn’t exist to force others to share our beliefs. Government just exists to protect us from each other. That’s because we constantly fight over everything. Instead of being satisfied with what we have, we covet what others have, and we insist that others affirm us by believing what we believe.
Consider how difficult it is for us even to define a religion. For example, one of the major complaints about Democratic Party’s leadership is that they refuse to properly define the terrorist threat. Thus in his editorial, Calling Islamist terrorism by its name, Bruce M. Lawlor makes this observation.
The fiction that terrorists are not Muslims is one reason why more Muslim leaders haven’t spoken out to condemn the violence, and to discredit the religious beliefs that motivated it. Turkey’s head of religious affairs recently used the president’s logic to counsel American Muslims against condemning terrorists violence because “We all know that all the crimes that are committed against humanity can never find any justification in Islam,” So despite the fact that terrorists call themselves Muslims, and Allahu Akbar is their war cry, many Muslim leaders remain silent, victims of the same political correctness that prevents people from reporting suspicious activities. The illogic of this is furthered by the chant that only Muslims can talk about reforming Islam. Apparently, if there is to be a discussion about whether Islam permits the killing of non-believers, non-believers shouldn’t be allowed to have a seat at the table. (from here)
What is ironic is that Lawlor goes on to make this statement.
Rather than deny their existence, it would be better to acknowledge that Islamist terrorists believe they are following true Islam, and then discredit their beliefs, and distinguish them from the religion’s peaceful adherents. In short, we should attack their ideological justification, isolate them from other Muslims, and then destroy them piecemeal. It is divide and conquer, a concept as old as conflict itself. (from here)
Our government officials are going to tell Muslims what their religion is and is not? Is that not our complaint against Obama? He refuses to admit that terrorists, who call themselves Muslims, are Muslims?
Deciding what is Islamic and what is not Islamic is not our president’s job. Whose job is it? Consider what Locke observed.
And, first, I hold that no church is bound, by the duty of toleration, to retain any such person in her bosom as, after admonition, continues obstinately to offend against the laws of the society. For, these being the condition of communion and the bond of the society, if the breach of them were permitted without any animadversion the society would immediately be thereby dissolved. But, nevertheless, in all such cases care is to be taken that the sentence of excommunication, and the execution thereof, carry with it no rough usage of word or action whereby the ejected person may any wise be damnified in body or estate. For all force (as has often been said) belongs only to the magistrate, nor ought any private persons at any time to use force, unless it be in self-defence against unjust violence. Excommunication neither does, nor can, deprive the excommunicated person of any of those civil goods that he formerly possessed. All those things belong to the civil government and are under the magistrate’s protection. The whole force of excommunication consists only in this: that, the resolution of the society in that respect being declared, the union that was between the body and some member comes thereby to be dissolved; and, that relation ceasing, the participation of some certain things which the society communicated to its members, and unto which no man has any civil right, comes also to cease. For there is no civil injury done unto the excommunicated person by the church minister’s refusing him that bread and wine, in the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, which was not bought with his but other men’s money. (from here)
Our government has a complex task, protecting us from each other. We don’t need to complicate by involving it in our religious disputes. The terrorists call themselves Muslims. They claim to risk their lives and die in Allah’s cause. Rightly or wrongly, that is their proclaimed doctrine. Are they wrong? Then it is up to other Muslims to show that is true, not President Bush, President Obama, or any other American president. Our government’s job is just to identify the threat, organization and doctrine, and destroy it.