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Edict on Religion by Johann Christoph von Wöllner, Prussian Minister of Justice and Head of Religious Affairs, cosigned by King Frederick William II, and various Ministers (July 9, 1788)

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We, Frederick William, by the Grace of God,
King of Prussia etc.

Proclaim and make known to all, that, long before our assumption of the throne, we already realized and noted how necessary it would be one day, following the example of our most serene ancestors, but especially of His Majesty our grandfather who rests with God, to see to it that the Christian religion of the Protestant Church be preserved in the Prussian lands in its old original purity and authenticity, and in part restored; also that unbelief and superstition, and therefore the corruption of the fundamental truths of the belief of the Christians, and the dissolution of morals resulting from this, be checked to whatever extent possible; and that our subjects be simultaneously given convincing proof that, with respect to their most important affairs – namely complete freedom of conscience, undisturbed peace, and security in the confession they have adopted and in the faith of their fathers, and as regards protection against disturbers of their religious services and ecclesiastical constitutions – they must turn to us, as their territorial lord; having already attended to the most urgent matters of the state and completed various necessary and useful new institutions, we now make no further delay in seriously thinking about this, our other important duty as regent, and in making our unchangeable will on this matter publicly known in the present edict. Thus

§ 1. we order, enjoin, and command that all three principal confessions of the Christian religion, namely, the Reformed, the Lutheran, and the Roman Catholic, be preserved, sustained, and protected in all our lands in the form they have had until now, in accordance with manifold edicts and decrees issued by our blessed ancestors. At the same time, however,

§ 2. the toleration of the other sects and religious parties that has always been characteristic of the Prussian states shall be maintained, and no one shall at any time suffer the least coercion of conscience, as long as he fulfills his duties peaceably as a good citizen of the state, keeps his particular opinions to himself, and carefully refrains from disseminating them or persuading others to [adopt] them, and [avoids] making others erroneous or wavering in their faith. For since every man must attend to his own salvation, he must be able to act with complete freedom in this regard, and it is our belief that every Christian prince must only see to it and ensure that the people are taught true Christianity, faithfully and without corruption, by teachers and preachers, and thereby give everyone the opportunity to learn and adopt the same. However, whether or not a subject wishes to use and take advantage of the opportunity so richly offered to him for his own conviction, must be left with complete freedom to his own conscience.

The sects hitherto publicly tolerated in our states, apart from the Jewish nation, are the Herrenhutter [Moravians], Mennonites, and the Bohemian Brethren, who hold their religious gatherings under the protection of the territorial lord and shall continue to be untroubled in enjoying this freedom which does no harm to the state. Hereafter, however, our Ecclesiastical Department shall make sure that no other assemblies harmful to the Christian religion and the state are held under the name of a religious meeting, by means of which all kinds of people dangerous to peace and new teachers might intend to gain followers and proselytes, which would constitute a great abuse of our tolerance. [ . . . ]

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