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January/February 2013

Discover more articles from this issue.

Looking Ahead

So often in the past we have called upon the “guardians” of the American experiment for their advice on what they meant by such things as democracy, freedom, and religious liberty.

An Edict

The year A.D. 313 is an important date in the history of religious freedom.

A Model for Freedom of Religion

Is America really secular? The state and the church are two separate institutions, and no formal dominance or relationship exists between them.

By What Authority?

What happens when biblical absolutes become politically inconvenient?

In the Whirlwind

Robert A. Burt asks numerous questions about the authority of God as presented in the Bible. While it might seem overtly blasphemous to most religionists to even ask such questions, Burt does.

When Religious Liberty Issues Aren’t

What is, or is not a bona fide religious liberty question?

History of Sunday Laws

While in Colonial days, and in some of the cases tried in the early history of the nation, the question of religion did enter into the decisions by the courts, the tendency today seems to be strongly away from such a course.

Racism and the Golden Rule

The best way to overcome racial bigotry and promote racial understanding and harmony is to practice the golden rule.

Lincoln’s Noble Character

We desperately need today many more men and women of Abraham Lincoln's nobility of mind, spirit, and character.

Defenseless Minorities In Constant Fear

Only when its citizens can be persuaded that civic responsibility begins with tolerance will Pakistan step out of the Dark Ages and strive for the dignity all of its diverse people deserve.

Arab Spring, Democracy, And Antichrist

As our Christian brothers and sisters in Syria pray and hope that whatever comes next will bring them peace, we are reminded of both the virtues and liabilities of democracy.

Magazine Archive »

Published in the January/February 2013 Magazine
by John Graz

The year A.D. 313 is an important date in the history of religious freedom.

That date brought into a positive focus some very significant developments in “Christendom” and the Roman world of that time.

The new emperor of the Western Roman Empire, Constantine the Great, signed an agreement with Licinius Augustus, the emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire. By this edict Contantine agreed to protect the Christians who had endured years of persecution. This document, called the Edict of Milan, became the first edict in favor of religious freedom for all people living in the Roman Empire.

In return for agreeing to the signing of the edict, Licinius received, as a gift, Constantia, Contantine’s half sister, to be his wife. Women’s rights issues aside, this was a huge political and dynastic concession. On April 30, 311, Emperor Galerius had issued an edict of toleration. This was the first step. Christians were at least tolerated. The Edict of Milan was about the recognition of their rights.

After centuries of persecution and nearly 10 dramatic, fearful years under the emperor Diocletian, the Christians were finally free to worship God, and the pagans were also free to worship as they chose.

Unfortunately, Constantine also gave privileges to the Christian bishops. He was not neutral, and he became more and more involved in the life of the church. He played a preponderant role at the Council of Nicea, which is accepted as establishing the foundation of the Christian Creed. And he opened the door to the alliance between state and church.

What Happened?

A few decades later, under Theodosius in 391, the Christian church became the state church; and pagans, dissidents, and heretics began to be persecuted. The unity of the empire was now premised on one God, one emperor, and one religion. It was a tragic alliance for the Christian church, which became, for centuries, one of the worst persecutors in history.

If the Roman Empire had actually respected the Edict of Milan, the history of the Western world and the history of the world in general would have been totally different. The history of the church would have been preserved from the dark stains of persecution. Millions of lives would have been saved from torture and execution.

As we are encouraged to celebrate–or at least commemorate–the Edict of Milan in 2013, we must not forget what happened later on, and we must reaffirm our commitment to religious freedom for all people everywhere.

Author: John Graz

John Graz is secretary-general of the International Religious Liberty Association.

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