Editor’s note: This article is the second part of a three-piece essay in response to Thomas Storck’s May article, “The Revenge of Religious Liberty“; part one ran on Friday and part three will air tomorrow.

Furthermore, if religious beliefs are so unimportant a part of the Lockean state, why does Locke refuse toleration to atheists and Muslims? “The taking away of God,” he observes in the Letter, referring to atheism, “though but even in thought, dissolves all.”

Certainly, Locke's reason for saying this is primarily related to the common good of society rather than the truth of revelation (he did not believe atheists could be trusted to keep “Covenants, Oaths,” etc.), but for Storck to object to this passage on these grounds is wholly frivolous. The common good of society is the end of government and the proper measure of all its actions, according to practically the entire canon of Western philosophy. Dignitatis Humanae itself gives the “common good” as an exception to the rule of toleration, just as Locke did, showing that this position is also a part of Catholic tradition. A law’s morality derives from its adherence to natural law, its propriety, from whether or not it tends towards the common good.

This brings me to another reason that Storck’s interpretation of the Letter is fundamentally flawed. By nimbly avoiding any discussion of the natural law, he is forced into a false dichotomy: Because the laws in a Lockean polity are not explicitly based on revealed truth, he implies, those laws cannot be truly moral.

For one thing, Locke’s institutional separation of church and state, as we have seen, actually allows lawmakers to effectively give voice to their beliefs rather than live under the shadow of a servile civil religion. For another, in implying that the natural law is not a sufficiently just basis for government, Storck is departing from the tenor of mainstream classical and Christian philosophy. Although Augustine and Aquinas advocated the cautious use of coercion to preserve order in society or protect the cause of the Church, they nowhere intimate that human law can or should be based on anything other than the natural law. All men can consult their reason; only some can know the truth of revelation. Otherwise, one opens a Pandora’s Box no longer bounded by the natural law. Legislation’s scope must be directed towards punishing violations of natural law and threats to the common good.

Although Locke makes natural law the foundation of a just state, he has no more confidence in natural reason’s sufficiency than either Augustine or Aquinas. “[T]is too hard a task for unassisted Reason to establish Morality in all its parts upon its true foundations,” he remarks in his theological treatise, the Reasonableness of Christianity. “Experience shews that the knowledge of Morality, by meer natural light…makes but slow progress, and little advance in the World.” The light of revelation not only can and should illumine lawmakers’ work as they legislate within the confines of the natural law; it is absolutely essential.

Locke believed that the best way to ensure that the revealed law continued to illumine the natural law was by allowing churches to preach the Gospel without fear of the civil authority. This is one reason why Locke curtails the state’s power so dramatically. A limited government allows the other institutions necessary for a good society—churches, families, private organizations, etc.—the freedom to serve human needs in the ways they judge best, according to natural law and the common good. The state is clearly not the best-qualified institution to “provide for the truth of opinions.” The church is, and therefore that responsibility is delegated to it.

“A Good Life,” Locke writes in the Letter, “in which consists…Religion and true Piety, concerns also the Civil Government; and in it lies the safety both of Men’s Souls, and of the Commonwealth. Moral Actions belong therefore to the Jurisdiction…of the…Magistrate and Conscience. Here therefore is great danger, lest one of these Jurisdictions intrench upon the other, and Discord arise between the Keeper of the publick Peace, and the Overseers of Souls.”

Maintaining this balance is the ultimate goal of Locke’s philosophy. The church as an institution must refrain from temporal power, but its members can bring their beliefs to bear on governing while they maintain the light of the Gospel. The state maintains the common good according to natural law, but must not tamper with churches and the rights of conscience.

Storck’s misunderstandings of the Letter extend to his view of the United States, which, as the best example of a Lockean regime, necessarily runs afoul of his sensibilities.

Storck argues elsewhere that the First Amendment bars Christianity from ever being influential at the national level, and he concedes secularists’ argument that the First Amendment does more than separate church and state institutionally. These are groundless assertions, and he resorts to a novel reading of the texts he cites in order to prove them. True, the quotations from Washington, Jefferson and Reynolds he chose to include speak only about religion’s social utility. But it is fallacious to argue that the absence of evidence is evidence of absence. Clearly, the Framers and justices he cites are not saying that religion is only valuable for the stability it lends government. Nor are they insinuating that religious truth has nothing to do with lawmaking (significantly, they refer to “opinion” in much the same way Locke did). They are addressing religion’s social utility for the simple reason that this is the side of it that touches them most in their limited capacities as public officials in a constitutional regime. It was not until a mid-twentieth century rash of Supreme Court cases that it became common to interpret this restraint as indifference. Storck’s argument yields this point to those who would twist the Constitution into an inherently secular document.

If Storck is seriously concerned about a state that thinks religion is valuable primarily for its social utility, then it is ironic that he takes refuge in religious establishments. While Locke’s policy of toleration is primarily justified by spiritual concerns (the health of the church and men’s sole ability before God to determine their own eternal destiny), establishments are almost invariably justified by appeal to Christianity’s absolute necessity to the perpetuation of temporal authority. Indeed, the Letter shows from Roman and English history that “the Church…is for the most part more apt to be influenced by the Court, than the Court by the Church.”

Take as one example the bill put forth by Patrick Henry when Jefferson was attempting to pass the 1779 statute that Storck takes to task in his article. Henry’s bill spoke of the Christian faith in terms more clearly utilitarian than anything Jefferson wrote:

“The general diffusion of Christian knowledge hath a natural tendency to correct the morals of men, restrain their vices, and preserve the peace of society; which cannot be effected without a competent provision for learned teachers, who may be thereby enabled to devote their time and attention to the duty of instructing…citizens….”

There is no concern here for establishing revealed truth or for citizens’ eternal state. The sole aim is domestic tranquility. Entirely absent, however, are the arguments Jefferson and Madison made about protecting the church and establishing the preeminence of conscience rights. “It is the duty of every man,” Madison wrote, “to render to the Creator…homage….This duty is precedent in order of time and in degree of obligation, to the claims of Civil Society….” Madison went on to contend that churchmen easily become “convenient auxiliaries” to designing politicians, and that establishment was “adverse to the diffusion of the light of Christianity.” In retirement years later, he observed with satisfaction that, through toleration, "the number, the industry, and the morality of the Priesthood, & the devotion of the people have been manifestly increased...."

Toleration has the health of Christianity at its heart. Establishment is fundamentally oriented towards perpetuating temporal power.