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Religion and Liberty

The 19th-century historian Henry Thomas Buckle expressed the view of many of his liberal contemporaries when he called religious persecution “unquestionably the greatest evil men have ever inflicted on their own species.” W E. H. Lecky also found fertile soil in the history of persecution for his extensive investigations into the influence of ideas on the course of Western civilization. As he wrote, “the burnings, the tortures, the imprisonments, the confiscations, the disabilities, the long wars” precipitated by religious intolerance were chiefly due to men of unimpeachable character, “whose lives were spent in absolute devotion to what they believed to be true.”

Lord Acton was another classical liberal for whom the history of religious freedom provided a case study in the development of individual freedom in ...

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