The Baha'i Faith & Religious Freedom of Conscience


Abdul-Baha, A Traveler’s Narrative, originally published in 1891, 87 - 92.

[To insure] freedom of conscience and tranquility of heart and soul is one of the duties and functions of government, and is in all ages the cause of progress in development and ascendancy over other lands. Other civilized countries acquired not this preeminence, nor attained unto these high degrees of influence and power, till such time as they put away the strife of sects out of their midst, and dealt with all classes according to one standard. All are one people, one nation, one species, one kind. The common interest is complete equality; justice and equality amongst mankind are amongst the chief promoters of empire and the principal means to the extension of the skirt of conquest. From whatever section of earth's denizens signs of contentiousness appear, prompt punishment is required by a just government; while any person who girds up the loins of endeavor and carries off the ball of priority is deserving of royal favors and worthy of splendid gifts. Times are changed, and the need and fashion of the world are changed. Interference with creed and faith in every country causes manifest detriment, while justice and equal dealing towards all peoples on the face of the earth are the means whereby progress is effected.


Where is this little island in the North Atlantic, and where the vast territory of the East Indies? Can such extension be obtained save by equal justice to all peoples and classes? At all events, by means of just laws, freedom of conscience, and uniform dealing and equity towards all nationalities and peoples, they have actually brought under their dominion nearly all of the inhabited quarter of the world, and by reason of these principles of freedom they have added day by day to the strength, power, and extent of their empire, while most of the peoples on the face of the earth celebrate the name of this state for its justice. As regards religious zeal and true piety, their touchstone and proof are firmness and steadfastness in noble qualities, virtues, and perfections, which are the greatest blessings of the human race; but not interference with the belief of this one or that one, demolition of edifices, and cutting off of the human race. In the middle ages, whereof the beginning was the time of the fall of the Roman Empire, and the end the capture of Constantinople at the hands of [the followers of] Islám, fierce intolerance and molestation of far and near arose in [all] the countries of Europe by reason of the paramount influence of religious leaders. The matter came to such a pass that the edifice of humanity seemed tottering to its fall, and the peace and comfort of chief and vassal, king and subject, became hidden behind the veil of annihilation. Night and day all parties were slaves to apprehension and disquietude: civilization was utterly destroyed: the control and order of countries was neglected: the principles and essentials of the happiness of the human race were in abeyance: the supports of kingly authority were shaken: but the influence and power of the heads of religion and of the monks were in all parts complete. But when they removed these differences, persecution, and bigotries out of their midst, and proclaimed the equal rights of all subjects and the liberty of men's consciences, the lights of glory and power arose and shone from the horizons of that kingdom in such wise that those countries made progress in every direction; and whereas the mightiest monarchy of Europe had been servile to and abased before the smallest government of Asia, now the great states of Asia are unable to oppose the small states of Europe. These are effectual and sufficient proofs that the conscience of man is sacred and to be respected; and that liberty thereof produces widening of ideas, amendment of morals, improvement of conduct, disclosure of the secrets of creation, and manifestation of the hidden verities of the contingent world. Moreover, if interrogation of conscience, which is one of the private possessions of the heart and the soul, take place in this world, what further recompense remains for man in the court of divine justice at the day of general resurrection? Convictions and ideas are within the scope of the comprehension of the King of kings, not of kings; and soul and conscience are between the fingers of control of the Lord of hearts, not of [His] servants. So in the world of existence two persons unanimous in all grades [of thought] and all beliefs cannot be found. `The ways unto God are as the number of the breaths of [His] creatures' is a mysterious truth, and `To every [people] We have appointed a [separate] rite' [50] is one of the subtleties of the Qur'án.

"Today we have closed our eyes to every righteous act and have sacrificed the abiding happiness of society to our own transitory profit.  We regard fanaticism and zealotry as redounding to our credit and honor, and not content with this, we denounce one another and plot each other's ruin, and whenever we wish to put on a show of wisdom and learning, of virtue and godliness, we set about mocking and reviling this one and that.  "The ideas of such a one," we say, "are wide of the mark, and so-and-so's behavior leaves much to be desired.  The religious observances of Zayd are few and far between, and Amr is not firm in his faith."...With words such as these they assualt the minds of the helpless masses and disturb the hearts of the already bewildered poor, who know nothing of the true state of affairs and the real basis for such talk and remain completely unaware of the fact that a thousand selfish purposes are concealed behind the supposedly religious eloquence of certain individuals.  They imagine that speakers of this type are motivated by virtuous zeal, when the truth is that such individuals keep up a great hue and cry because they see their own personal ruin in the welfare of the masses, and believe that if the people's eyes are opened their own light will go out.

Abdul-Baha, The Secret of Divine Civilization, 56-57, 1990 edition.

"Likewise, when you meet those whose opinions differ from your own, do not turn away your face from them. All are seeking truth, and there are many roads leading thereto. Truth has many aspects , but it remains always and forever one. Do not allow difference of opinion, or diversity of thought to separate you from your fellow-men, or to be the cause of dispute, hatred and strife in your hearts." --Abdul-Baha, Paris Talks, 53. 

Truly, this is a great and revered nation. Here liberty has reached its highest degree. The intentions of its people are most praiseworthy. They are, indeed, worthy of being the first to build the Tabernacle of the Most Great Peace and proclaim the oneness of mankind. I will supplicate God for assistance [PUP p.36-37]

You are living upon the great continent of the West, enjoying the perfect liberty, security and peace of this just government. There is no cause for sorrow or unhappiness anywhere; every means of happiness and enjoyment is about you, for in this human world there is no greater blessing than liberty. [PUP p.52]

This is the century of new and universal nationhood. Sciences have advanced; industries have progressed; politics have been reformed; liberty has been proclaimed; justice is awakening. [PUP p.143]

Praise be to God! The standard of liberty is held aloft in this land. You enjoy political liberty; you enjoy liberty of thought and speech, religious liberty, racial and personal liberty. Surely this is worthy of appreciation and thanksgiving.[PUP p.390]

But when they removed these differences, persecution, and bigotries out of their midst, and proclaimed the equal rights of all subjects and the liberty of men's consciences, the lights of glory and power arose and shone from the horizons of that kingdom in such wise that those countries made progress in every direction [TN p.91]

When meeting for consultation, each must use perfect liberty in stating his views and unveiling the proof of his demonstration. [BWF p.406]

The third candle is unity in freedom which will surely come to pass. [SWA p.32]

The honoured members must with all freedom express their own thoughts, and it is in no wise permissible for one to belittle the thought of another. [SWA p.88]

[To insure] freedom of conscience and tranquility of heart and soul is one of the duties and functions of government, and is in all ages the cause of progress in development and ascendancy over other lands. [TNp87]

The Constitutional Government, according to the irrefutable text of the Religion of God, is the cause of the glory and prosperity of the nation and the civilization and freedom of the people [TAB p. 492]

[Italics added]

`Abdul-Baha on Freedom of Conscience and Speech - Translated by Juan R.I. Cole, 
Department of History, University of Michigan

Palo Alto, California, 9 October 1912: 

"Before `Abdu l-Baha left Palo Alto, a group again had the honor of gathering in the most holy court. Among his blessed utterances was an explanation of religious conflicts, especially those of the Christians. "Some said Christ was God, and some said he was the Word, while others called him a prophet. Because of these differences, conflicts arose among them, such that in the community there was enmity instead of spirituality, and estrangement rather than unity. But Baha u llah has closed the door on such differences. By arranging for interpretation to be carried out by an authoritative Interpreter of the Book, by establishing the Universal House of Justice--or in other words the Parliament of the [Baha i] community--and by commanding that there be no interference in beliefs or conscience, He blocked such breaches from occurring. He even said that if two persons discussing some matter develope a dispute, such that it leads to a polarization, both are wrong and discredited."

(Mahm£d Zarq n¡, Kit b-i Bad 'i` al-Ath r, 2 vols. (Hofheim-Langenhain:
Bah '¡-Verlag, 1982), 1:294.)

The Three Types of Liberty

A Talk of `Abdu l-Baha given on 7 April 1913 in Budapest

He is God.
Liberty is of three sorts. One is the divine freedom, that is confined to the
essence of the Creator. He is autonomous and absolute. No one can compel
Him with regard to anything at all.

Another form of liberty is that of the Europeans, which holds that human
beings may do as they please on the condition that they not harm one another.
This is the liberty of nature, and its highest degree is found in the animal
world. This is the estate of the animal. Look at these birds, in what liberty
they live. Whatever human beings might do, they can never be as free as
animals. Rather, order stands in the way of freedom.

As for the third sort of liberty, it is under the divine laws and ordinances.
This is the liberty of the human world, which severs the heart's relationship
with all things. It soothes all hardships and sorrow. The more the consciences
of human beings progress
, the more free their hearts become, and the more
glad their spirits become.

In the religion of God there is freedom of thought, for no one can rule over the
[individual s] conscience save God.
But [freedom of thought] exists only to
the extent that it is not expressed in terms that depart from politeness.
In the religion of God there is no freedom of deeds. No one can transgress the
divine law, even if in so doing he harms no one. For by the divine law is
intended the training of oneself and others. For to God, harming oneself or
harming others are the same, and both are reprehensible. In hearts there
must be the fear of God, and human beings must not commit blameworthy
deeds. Therefore, the freedom of deeds that exists in civil law does not exist in
religion. As for freedom of thought, it must not transgress the bounds of
politeness. And deeds are also linked to fear of God and the divine

`Abdu'l-Ham¡d Ishr q-Kh var¡, ed., M 'idih-yi Asm n¡, 9 vols. (Tehran:
Bah '¡ Publishing Trust, 1973) 5:17-18.

Compare John Winthrop on Liberty 

Compare Abdul-Baha with what a member of the uhj has to say on conscience:

 "We have inherited a dangerous delusion from Christianity that our  individual conscience is supreme. This is not a Baha'i belief. In the end, in the context of both our role in the community and our role in the  greater world, we must be prepared to sacrifice our personal convictions or opinions. The belief that individual conscience is supreme is equivalent to "taking partners with God" which is abhorrent to the Teachings of the Faith." -Doug Martin (Find > "conscience")