- This article refers to Protestant Nonconformity. For the general meaning of term, see Wiktionary:nonconformity
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Origins and history
In England, after the Act of Uniformity 1662 a Nonconformist was an English subject belonging to a non-Christian religion or any non-Anglican church. A person who also advocated religious liberty may also be more narrowly considered as such. English Dissenters (such as Puritans and Presbyterians) who violated the Act of Uniformity 1559 may retrospectively be considered Nonconformists, typically by practising or advocating radical, sometimes separatist, dissent with respect to the Established Church.
Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Baptists, and Quakers (founded in 1648) were considered Nonconformists at the time of the 1662 Act of Uniformity. Later, as other groups formed, they were also considered Nonconformists. These included Methodists, Unitarians, Plymouth Brethren and members of the Salvation Army.
The term dissenter came into use, particularly after the Act of Toleration (1689), which exempted Nonconformists who had taken the oaths of allegiance and supremacy from penalties for non-attendance at the services of the Church of England. For more on Nonconformists of the 17th and 18th centuries, see English Dissenters.
In England, Nonconformists were restricted from many spheres of public life and were ineligible for many forms of public educational and social benefits, until the repeal in 1828 of the Test and Corporation Acts in the nineteenth century and associated toleration. For example, attendance at an English university had required conformity to the Church of England before University College London (UCL) was founded, compelling Nonconformists to fund their own Dissenting Academies privately.
The religious census of 1851 revealed that total Nonconformist attendance was very close to that of Anglicans.
Nonconformists were further angered by the Education Act 1902 which integrated denominational schools into the state system and provided for their support from taxes. John Clifford formed the National Passive Resistance Committee and by 1906 over 170 Nonconformists had gone to prison for refusing to pay their school taxes. This included 60 Primitive Methodists, 48 Baptists, 40 Congregationalists and 15 Wesleyan Methodists.
Today, churches independent of the Anglican Church of England or the Presbyterian Church of Scotland are often called free churches. In Scotland, the Anglican Scottish Episcopal Church is considered nonconformist (despite its English counterpart's status) and in England, the United Reformed Church, principally a union of Presbyterians and Congregationalists, is in a similar position.
In Wales the strong traditions of Nonconformism can be traced back to the Welsh Methodist revival which led to Wales effectively being a Nonconformist country by the mid 19th century. The influence of Nonconformism, boosted by yet another great religious revival in the shape of the 1904–1905 Welsh Revival, in the early part of the 20th century in Wales led to the disestablishment of the Anglican Church in Wales through the Church in Wales.
- English Dissenters
- Independent (religion)
- Religion in the United Kingdom
- Newington Green Unitarian Church – an example of a historically significant church, with background information
- Lloyd, Walter. The Story of Protestant Dissent and English Unitarianism. London: P. Green, 1899. 236 p.
- Catholic Encyclopedia: Nonconformists