Scotland, Free Church of, the secessionist Presbyterian church established as a result of the great disruption of 1843 in the Church of Scotland. The cause of the separation lay in the demand of the laity for a voice in matters of patronage. Previously abolished, patronage had been restored in 1712; protests and remonstrances resulted. In cases brought up for decision, civil and ecclesiastical courts disagreed with each other. The intrusion of ministers upon unwilling congregations became a serious issue. Congregations everywhere were divided. In 1843, after 10 years of conflict, a body of nonintrusionists in the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland signed a protest, withdrew, and constituted themselves the first Assembly of the Free Church. Thomas Chalmers was their leader and organizer. Over 470 ministers (out of 1,200) and professors who formed the center of the movement signed a deed of demission, giving up their claims to any benefits of the Established Church. There was no divergence from the accustomed doctrine, discipline, or worship. New College at Edinburgh was established by the Free Church. All but a minority of the Free Church entered a union (1900) with the United Presbyterian Church as the United Free Church of Scotland. In 1929 most rejoined the Church of Scotland. Those who did not objected to state recognition of any church. This group of 70 congregations continues to be known as the United Free Church of Scotland.
See K. R. Ross, Church and Creed in Scotland (1988).