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The suppression of the regular clergy likewise took place in stages, over much the same period. The monastic orders had long suffered from a poor image in public opinion, but their suppression at this point in time was partly conceived to facilitate the rapid seizure of monastic property Religious vows were suspended in late October 1789 and most regular orders - with the exception of congregations directly involved in teaching or in various social services - were dissolved the following February. Though provisions were made for individuals who wished to live out their lives in a conventual setting, a large number of male religious - though far fewer women - now left their convents, some returning to their families, others moving into the secular clergy.

The most contentious issue concerning the church during the first year of the Assembly's existence may well have been the status of Protestants and Jews. The proposal that freedom of religion be included in the 'rights of man and the citizen' aroused a great storm of protest among conservatives in late August 1789. The compromise wording, that 'No one should be troubled because of their opinions, even religious, provided that the expression of those opinions does not disturb public order', pleased no one and seemed to leave open the possibility of administrative or judicial restrictions on religious freedom. Only on Christmas Eve 1789, after several weeks of careful preparation and persuasion by the liberal 'left' side of the Assembly, were full political and civil rights granted to Protestants. Similar rights were given to Sephardic Jews one month later and to the generally less assimilated Ashkenazim in September 1791, shortly before the Assembly was dissolved. Although the Catholic Church remained established in theory to 1795, the sole denomination supportedby the revolutionary state, all careers and political participation were now opened to Protestants and Jews alike. The decrees thus marked a signal moment in the history of toleration in France and in Europe.

But such provisions left the conservatives in the Assembly more fearful than ever of the status of the Catholic Church in the new revolutionary regime. On three successive occasions motions to declare Catholicism the official 'state religion' went down to defeat. The third of these motions, by the Carthusian monk Dom Gerle on 12 April 1790, led to what was perhaps the single most impassioned and divisive debate since the beginning of the Revolution. When the motion was finally rejected, on a very close vote, a whole segment of the deputies convinced themselves that the left was attempting to 'destroy religion'. The nationwide campaign which the 'right' now launched in opposition to the Assembly's religious polices was one of the earliest steps in the development of an organized counter-revolution.

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