An act for exempting their Majesties’ Protestant Subjects, dissenting from the Church of England, from the Penalties of certain Laws.
The preamble states, “That forasmuch as some ease to scrupulous consciences, in the exercise of religion, may be an effectual means to unite their Majesties’ Protestant Subjects in interest and affection,” it enacts as follows: viz.
Sect. II. That neither the statute made in the 23d of Elizabeth, intituled. An act to retain the Queen’s Majesty’s Subjects in their due obedience; “nor the statute made in the 20th year of the said Queen, “for the more speedy and due execution of certain branches of the former act;” nor that clause of a statute made in the 1st year of the said Queen, intituled “An act for the Uniformity of common Prayer,” &c. whereby all persons are required to resort to their parish church or chapel, upon pain of punishment by the censures of the church; and also upon pain that every person so offending, shall forfeit for every such offence twelve pence; nor the statute made in the 3d year of the late King James, inituled “An act for the better discovering and repressing Popish Recusants;” nor that other statute, intituled “An act to prevent and avoid dangers which may grow by Popish Recussants;” nor any other law or statute of this realm made against Papists or Popish Recusants, shall be construed to extend to any person or persons dissenting from the Church of England, that shall take the oaths (of allegiance and supremacy) and shall make and subscribe the declaration (against Popery;) which oaths and declaration the justices of the peace at the general sessions of the peace for the county, or place where such persons shall live, are hereby required to administer to such persons as shall offer themselves to make and subscribe the same, and thereof to keep a register; and likewise, none of the persons aforesaid shall give or pay, as any fee or reward, to any officer belonging to the court, above the sum of sixpence, for his entry of his taking the said oaths, &c. nor above the further sum of sixpence of any certificate of the same.
Sect IV. That every person that shall take the said oaths and make and subscribe the declaration aforesaid, shall not be liable to any pains, penalties, or forfeitures, mentioned in an act made in the 35th of the late Queen Elizabeth, nor in an act made in the 22d of Charles the Second, intituled “An act to prevent and suppress Seditious Conventicles;” nor shall any of the said persons be prosecuted in any ecclesiastical court for their nonconforming to the Church or England.
Sect. V. Provided that if any assembly of persons, dissenting from the Church of England, shall be held in any place for religious worship with the doors locked, barrel, or bolted, during any time of such meeting together, such persons shall not receive any benefit from this law, but be liable to all the pains and penalties of all the aforesaid laws.
Sect. VI. Provided that nothing herein contained shall be construed to exempt any of the persons aforesaid from paying of tithes, or other parochial duties; nor from any prosecution in any ecclesiastical court or elsewhere, for the same.
Sect. VII. That if any person dissenting, &c. as aforesaid, shall hereafter be chosen high constable, or petit constable, church-warden, oversee of the poor, or any other parochial or ward officer, and such person shall scruple to take upon him any of the said offices, in regard of the oaths, or any other matter or thing required by the law to be taken or done in respect of such office, every such person shall and may execute such office by a sufficient deputy, that shall comply with the laws on this behalf.
Sect. VIII. That no person dissenting from the church of England in holy orders, or pretended holy orders, or pretending to holy orders, nor any preacher or teacher of any congregation of Dissenting Protestants, that shall make and subscribe the declaration aforsaid, and take the said oaths at the General or Quarter Sessions of the Peace, to be held for the county, town, parts, or division where such person lives, which court is hereby empowered to administer the same, and shall also declare his approbation of and subscribe the Articles of Religion mentioned in the statute made in the 13th of Q. Elizabeth, except the 34th, 35th, and 36th, and these words in the 20th article; viz. “The church hath power to decree rites or ceremonies, and authority in controversies of faith,”–shall be liable to any of the pains or penalties mentioned in former acts.
Sect. X. recites, That some Dissenting Protestants scruple the baptising of infants; and then proceeds to enact, That every person in pretended holy orders, &c. &c. that shall subscribe the aforesaid Articles of Religion, except before excepted, and also except part of the 27th article touching infant baptism, and shall take the said oaths, &c. &c. shall enjoy all the privileges, benefits, and advantages which any other Dissenting Minister might enjoy.
Sect. XI. That every teacher or preacher in holy orders, or pretended holy orders, that is, a minister, preacher, or teacher of a congregation, that shall take the oaths herein required, and make and subscribe the declaration aforesaid, &c. &c. shall be exempted from serving upon any jury, or from being appointed to bear the office of churchwarden, overseer of the poor, or any other parochial or ward office, or other office in any hundred of any shire, city, town, parish, division, or wapentake.
Sect. XII. That every justice of the peace may, at any time, require any person that goes to any meeting for exercise of religion, to make and subscribe the declaration aforesaid, and also to take the said oaths or declaration of fidelity hereinafter mentioned: in case such person scruples the taking of an oath, and upon refusal, such justice of the peace is required to commit such person to prison, and to certify the name of such person to the next General or Quarter Sessions of the Peace, &c.
Sect. XIII. recites, That there are certain other Dissenters who scruple the taking of any oath; and then proceeds to enact, That every such person shall make and subscribe the aforesaid declaration, and also this declaration of fidelity following; viz. “I, A. B. do sincerely promise and solemnly declare, before God and the world, that I will be true and faithful to King William and Queen Mary; and I do solemnly profess and declare, that I do from my heart abhor, detest, and renounce, as impious and heretical, that damnable doctrine and position, That princes excommunicated or deprived by the Pope, or any authority of the see of Rome, may be deposed or murthered by their subjects, or any other whatsoever; and I do declare, That no foreign prince, person, prelate, state, or potentiate, hath, or ought to have any power, jurisdiction, superiority, pre-eminence, or authority, ecclesiastical or spiritual, within this realm;” and shall subscribe a profession of their Christian belief in these words: “I, A. B. profess faith in God the Father, and in Jesus Christ his eternal Son, the true God, and in the Holy Spirit, one God blessed for evermore; and do acknowledge the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be given by divine inspiration:”–which declarations and subscriptions shall be entered of record at the General Quarter Sessions, &c. and every such person shall be exempted from all the pains and penalties of all and every the aforementioned statutes, &c.
Sect. XVI. Provided, That all the laws made and provided for the frequenting of divine service on the Lord’s Day, commonly called Sunday, shall be still in force, and executed against all persons that offend against the said laws, except such persons come to some congregation or assembly of religious worship, allowed or permitted by this act.
Sect. XVII. Provided, That neither this act, nor any clause, article, or thing herein contained, shall extend, or be construed to extend, to give any ease, benefit, or advantage to any Papist or Popish Recusant whatsoever, or any person that shall deny in his preaching or writing the doctrine of the blessed Trinity, as it is declared in the above-said Articles of Religion.
Sect. XVIII. Provided, That if any person or persons do and shall willingly, maliciously, or contemptuously, come into any cathedral or parish-church, chapel, or other congregation permitted by this act, and disquiet or disturb the same, or misuse any preacher or teacher, such person or persons, upon proof thereof before any justice of the peace, by two or more sufficient witnesses, shall find two sureties, to be bound by recognizance in the penal sum of 50l. and in default of such sureties, shall be committed to prison, there to remain till the next General or Quarter Sessions; and, upon conviction of the said offence at the said General or Quarter Sessions, shall suffer the pain and penalty of 20l. to the use of the King’s and Queen’s Majesties, their heirs and successors.
Sect. XIX. That no congregation or assembly for religious worship shall be permitted or allowed by this act until the place of such meeting shall be certified to the Bishop of the diocess, or to the Archdeacon of that archdeaconry, or to the justices of the peace at the General or Quarter Sessions of the peace for the county, city, or place in which such meeting shall be held, and registered in the said Bishop’s or Archdeacon’s court respectively, or recorded at the said General or Quarter Sessions; the register or clerk of the peace whereof respectively is hereby required to register the same, and to give certificate thereof to such person as shall demand the same; for which there shall be no greater fee or reward taken than the sum of sixpence.”
Lord Sidmouth has lately attempted to introduce a bill in the House of Lords, proposing some amendment or explanation of this famous Act, in order to prevent abuses; but the fact appeared to be the prevention of Sectarianism by means of itinerant preachers; and to clog the exertions of those who wish to instruct their neighbours. Vast numbers of petitions from all parts of the country were presented against the bill; so that when it was brought forward on May 21, 1811, (after a considerable discussion,) the question for a second reading was put and negatived without a division. The bill was therefore thrown out. It is to be hoped that this will be the last effort ever made to infringe the Act of Toleration.
Charles Buck (1771-1815) was an English Independent minister, best known for the publication of his “Theological Dictionary”. According to the “Dictionary of National Biography”, a Particular Baptist minister named John C. Ryland (1723-1792) assisted Buck by writing many of the articles for the aforementioned publication. One may conclude, based not only Buck’s admiration for his friend Ryland, but also on the entries in his Theological Dictionary, that he stood head and shoulders with the High-Calvinists of his day.