The Declaration of Indulgence or Declaration for Liberty of Conscience was a pair of proclamations made by James II of England and VII of Scotland in 1687. The Indulgence was first issued for Scotland on 12 February and then for England on 4 April 1687. It was a first step at establishing freedom of religion in the British Isles, although part of the king's intention was to promote his own minority religion, Catholicism, reviled by most of his subjects.
The Declaration granted broad religious freedom in England by suspending penal laws enforcing conformity to the Church of England and allowing persons to worship in their homes or chapels as they saw fit, and it ended the requirement of affirming religious oaths before gaining employment in government office.
By use of the royal suspending power, the king lifted the religious penal laws and granted toleration to the various Christian denominations, Catholic and Protestant, within his kingdoms. The Declaration of Indulgence was supported by William Penn, who was widely perceived to be its instigator. The declaration was greatly opposed by Anglicans in England on both religious and constitutional grounds. Some Anglicans objected to the fact that the Declaration had no specified limits and thus, at least in theory, licensed the practice of any religion, including Islam, Judaism, or paganism. Many also objected to the fact that the king, by issuing the Declaration, had implicitly claimed a power to suspend laws passed by Parliament.
In Scotland the Indulgence stated that subjects were to obey the King's "sovereign authority, prerogative royal, and absolute power" "without reserve" (Never directly quoted in text). The Presbyterians initially refused to accept the Indulgence. The King re-issued it on 28 June, giving the Presbyterians the same liberties as Roman Catholics; this was accepted by most of the Presbyterians, with the notable exception of the Covenanters. The Indulgence, as well as granting religious liberties to his subjects, also reaffirmed the King as absolute.
The English version was welcomed by most non-conformists, but, as in Scotland, the Presbyterians were more reluctant to wholeheartedly accept it. There was concern that the toleration rested only on the King's arbitrary will. The Anglican Church was greatly disturbed by it.
The English Indulgence was reissued on 27 April 1688, leading to open resistance from Anglicans. Few clergy read out the indulgence in Church. The Scottish Declaration was reaffirmed in a second proclamation in May 1688. Some Scottish Episcopalians refused to recognise the Indulgence.
William Sancroft, Archbishop of Canterbury, and six other Bishops presented a petition to the King declaring the Indulgence illegal. James regarded this as rebellion and sedition and promptly had the seven bishops tried; however, the bishops were acquitted. Many Presbyterians were sceptical of the king's intentions in proclaiming the Declaration, while other dissenters, including the Quakers and the Baptists, gave thanks to the king for the Indulgence.