Voltaire on the role of religion in the ideal republic (1762)


Writing in Idees Republicaines, published in 1762, the Enlightenment philosopher Voltaire argues for the separation and removal of church authority from matters of politics and personal thought:


“No ecclesiastical law should have any force except it has the express sanction of the government. It is by this means that Athens and Rome were freed from religious quarrels.

Magistrates alone should have power to allow or prohibit work on feast days, because it is not the business of priests to forbid men to cultivate their fields.

Everything which concerns marriages should depend solely on the magistrates, and priests should limit themselves to the august function of blessing them.

Lending at interest should be purely a concern of the civil law, since it alone has charge of commerce.

All ecclesiastics should be subject in all cases to the government, because they are subjects of the state.

No priest should ever have the power to take from a citizen the least prerogative under the pretext that the citizen is a sinner, because the priest is a sinner and out to pray for sinners instead of judging them.

Magistrates, laborers, and priests should bear the expenses of the state equally, because they belong to the state equally…

Is each citizen to be permitted to believe and to think that which his reason rightly or wrongly dictates? He should indeed, provided that he does not disturb the public order; for it is not contingent on man to believe or not to believe; but it is contingent on him to respect to usages of his country; and if you say that it is a crime not to believe in the dominant religion, you accuse then yourself the first Christians, your ancestors, and you justify those whom you accuse of having martyred them.”