Freedom of Religion in the United States (concise version)
This is the story of Freedom of Religion in the United States and its subsequent assault and attempt at subjugation by the concept of “Separation of Church and State”
The fundamental right of Religious Freedom and the imposition of the concept of the Separation of Church and State are embroiled in a constant struggle. The latter concept as it was and is invoked in the conduct of our lives and in our society affairs is a misrepresentation, a lie, that spread throughout the nation before the truth got its boots on, and is now regarded by most as a factual truth. Paradoxically, neither the term, nor the concept of “Separation of Church and State” appears in the U.S. Constitution. Yet, the overreaching, misguided and zealous invoking of the concept of Separation of Church and State as if it is the law of the land in our Constitution has effectively served to diminish the actual free exercise of religion specifically provided for in our Constitution’s Bill of Rights.
The first tenet in the Bill of Rights as stated in the First Amendment to the Constitution is that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” (“respecting” may be read as “pertaining to” or “with respect to”)
Episode 1 – Arrival of the Pilgrims and the Establishment of the Colonies
Religious intolerance before the founding of the United States was, with few exceptions, the norm throughout the early history of “civilized” people. It was part and parcel of the subjugation of one people by another. Religious observances by the conquered people were typically forbidden by the invading country, not to convert the conquered, but because of the threat it represented to their control. This was not always the case. The spread of Islam was religiously motivated. The Romans on the other hand allowed occupied peoples to maintain their religious observances as long as they also “respected the Roman Gods” – the Jewish people, interestingly, were granted an exemption.
The “right” of freedom of religion in America had its origins in post-Reformation Europe. New Christian denominations such as the Moravians, French Huguenots, and the Puritans were persecuted and struggled against governmental “state” religion demands for universal acceptance. These early religious freedom conflicts laid the historical groundwork for an individual’s right to freedom of religion ultimately guaranteed in America’s Bill of Rights.
But surprisingly Colonial America was not a land that blessed by religious freedom. Yes, the Puritans (called Pilgrims) came to these shores so that they could freely practice their religion. But ironically it was woe to anyone who did not practice their faith.
Religious freedom in the original 13 Colonies – did not get off to a good start! For example laws passed by the Puritans in Massachusetts in 1644 required exile of Anabaptists, fined ship’s captains for bringing Quakers to Massachusetts and called for whipping and assigning to prison with hard labor any Quakers who gained entry to the colony. The Connecticut “Code of 1650” had as its opening statement: “Whosoever shall worship a God other than the Lord shall be put to death”.
Although less extreme, lack of religious freedom was the norm in most other colonies. The “state church” of England was carried over via the founding charters of the American colonies. Residents of a colony, by decree, were to be Anglican church members just as all English citizens were. Nine of the thirteen original colonies had charters from England that established the Anglican church as the “state church” of the colony.
The most fertile seeds for the concept and adoption of “Christian” religious freedom in the 13 Colonies were planted in Rhode Island and in Pennsylvania. Roger Williams who split from the Puritans, founded Rhode Island with some religious freedom protections. Even greater religious toleration was guaranteed in the Pennsylvania charter given to William Pitt, a Quaker. (The King granted that because he owed William Pitt’s uncle big time.)
That is kind of how things started in the colonies. State churches being funded by assessments on the population and fostering discriminatory practices. But with time and the influx of settlers from throughout Europe, with their varied Christian denominational backgrounds, religious diversity became infused into the population. Further, the spirit of individualism and the rigorous pursuit of individuals and families to carve out a living, trumped the snobbish conventions required for societal acceptance. Thus, families and individuals in America were more likely to be respected and accepted for what they did rather than for where they came from or what they believed.
That brings us to the end of Episode 1 of “Freedom of Religion” in America. But how did we come from this rocky start to gain our prized Freedom of Religion in the United States? We will begin to find out in Episode 2 as we join the 13 “independent” Colonies beginning to think about banding together to collectively challenge, King George and Britain – the Mother Country over economic issues and the abuse of other rights of “Englishmen”. Log on to learn what happens in Freedom of Religion -Episode 2.
(note the above is the “concise” version of early colonial events for a more complete version see Episode 1- full version.)