This article identifies the liberties of the Church and the City of London which were intended to be protected by Magna Carta from 1215. The liberties intended were a recognition of a form of autonomy for the Church and the City and have no connection with the individual freedoms that are identified for protection by modern human rights instruments. The clauses in Magna Carta conferring that autonomy are among the very few that have not been repealed, but they have not been asserted for hundreds of years. While the idea of church autonomy has resonance with the ideas of subsidiarity and sphere-sovereignty developed in Catholic and Calvinist social teaching from the late nineteenth century, recent American jurisprudence suggests that religious autonomy may be the best way to defend religious liberty in the future. This article suggests that, just as English kings were persuaded to provide towns, colonial endeavours and eventually corporate free enterprise with limited autonomy for a fee, so charters conferring limited autonomy on religious communities may provide a philosophical and practical basis from which to defend religious liberty in the future, even if the assertion of individual religious liberty becomes politically incorrect.


Magna Carta, liberty, autonomy, religious freedom

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