Freedom of Religion Episode 2 (concise)

Freedom of Religion in America – Episode 2 (short 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 2 –Colonial Unification and Constitutional History Related to Freedom of Religion

As described in Episode 1 neither “freedom of religion” nor “Separation of Church and State” were in evidence in the early history of the 13 Colonies.  As the revolutionary period approached, “state churches” continued to exist in most of the colonies.  Although religious toleration existed in some regions, there was no organized effort to push this principle.  Commonly there were prejudicial actions against those who did not belong to the “state” sponsored church, e.g. membership in the “state church” was required to hold office. Each colony functioned relatively independently, and when the colonies did work together it  usually related to common defense, or an economic issue.  Because earning a living tended to occupy the people, religious toleration was “unofficially” practiced.

After the French and Indian War (1754-1763), the Colonists, who viewed themselves as British subjects, with the “rights” of British subjects, began complaining about taxation, quartering of British soldiers, etc. They considered England was restricting or retracting their rights.  Freedom of religion, however, was not one of the rights about which most Colonists were concerned.  Many were Anglican in the first place, and further they did not previously have a religious freedom “right” under the crown.  Religious freedom was not one of the root issues leading to the revolutionary war.  But several factors eventually drove religious freedom to the forefront of the Bill of Rights.

These factors included: (1) the necessity of the religiously disparate colonies to unite, (2) the common sense that recognized the diversity in Christian sects present among the states and within the total population had to be accommodated, (3) recognition of the incongruity of individual liberty and freedom for all and the dictating of a denomination by a colony, (4) the absence of any religious fervor or agenda among the founding fathers toward pushing for any particular Christian sect (and the “Anglican” denomination would certainly not be put forward in that role because of its ties to England), and (5) the religious freedom resolution which was put into the Virginia Constitution in which James Madison participated.

The 13 original colonies were not all that interested in uniting and giving up their “states rights”, not at the time before the Revolutionary War nor even afterward when the time came to prepare a Constitution and form a stronger central government.  However, it must have been evident to the Colonial leaders that:

  • there was no need for the central government, to establish a “state church”
  • it was not reasonable or realistic to establish a single Christian church denomination
  • such a requirement would have been against the cause of individual freedom.

Further at that time in history, Deism (believe in a Supreme Being but not the Christian Gospel) was common among many, including some founding fathers. Imposing a Christian Church upon the populous would not have been something that they would have personally supported.

Freedom of religion, while not a right given much attention with respect to the Revolutionary War, was a byproduct of winning it.  Anglicans and New England Congregationalists may not have even considered freedom of religion an issue (as they essentially had it all along). But there were likely a great number of Christians who recognized and rejoiced in the fact that there was no longer a “state church” and that freedom of religion would become a reality and an acknowledged fact.  The many Christian denominations in America who had been the receivers of religious intolerance would have been keenly interested in making religious freedom a documented fact in the new country and its constitution.  This interest was likely a major driving force behind the demand for a Bill of Rights.

One major exception to the ambivalence toward documenting religious liberty was in Virginia, which had an established Anglican “state” Church.  Virginia, was alive with the fervor of individual liberties, and one of those liberties that was being abridged was freedom of religion via the imposition of the Anglican Church.  So the Virginia patriots including James Madison, George Mason and Thomas Jefferson, urged the Virginia constitutional convention to pass “a declaration of the free exercise of religion” in their Constitution.   State aid to the Anglican Church was cut off and in 1786 Jefferson’s famous “Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom” passed. It stated “all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion”, and guaranteed Virginians that they would not be compelled to “support any religious worship place or ministry whatsoever”.  It took other states many years to include like language in their state constitutions.

The answer to the question of how and why “freedom of religion” become the first and one of the key rights, named in the Bill of Rights is now becoming a bit clearer.  But it is still three more years before “Freedom of Religion” becomes an integral part of our founding documents.

Most delegates to the Constitutional Convention in 1787 were “States Rights” delegates who came with the idea that the central government should be limited.  Thus, the focus of those preparing the Constitution was, that only the powers and responsibilities delegated to the central Government would be covered in the Constitution, everything else, anything that was not specifically identified, would remain with the states or with the people.  (This intent was later captured and still exists in the 10th amendment to the U.S. Constitution.)

Thus, it is not surprising, in light of the goal of only stating what the central government would do, that there was no consideration and no discussion of a “state church” or in fact anything to do with religion in the Constitution.   Thus, there was no administrative or legislative provision, nor any preference to be given to one church denomination over another by the Federal Government.  The Constitution assigned no powers and responsibilities to the central Government regarding religion.  There was no discussion of the concept or idea of the separation of church and state.  By silence on the matter it was clear that the past practice of a “state church” would not be the future practice. Churches and the Federal Government were viewed as distinct institutions.  But importantly, not as conflicting institutions.  Many of the founding fathers considered, just as the Pilgrims did, that the making of America was divinely inspired and divinely led.  James Madison, known as the father of the Constitution, when commenting on the Constitution, stated:  “We have staked the whole future of American civilization, not upon the power of government, far from it. We have staked the future of all of our political institutions upon the capacity of mankind of self-government; upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves, to control ourselves, to sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God.”   John Adams recognized the opportunity of the American Colonies to found a great democracy of the people as a gift from God and said we therefore “better get it right”.

So on September 17, 1787 the U.S. Constitution was sent to the states for ratification and it became the law of the land.  The Constitution did not establish a “State Church” and the Federal Government was granted no powers with respect to “governing” religion.  However, ratification came with requests from several states that specific rights of the people be spelled out.

That brings us to the end of Episode 2.  In Episode 3 we will learn how James Madison’s simply stated first sentence in the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”, came to be. That statement, which is the only statement concerning religion or the church within the United States Constitution (as amended), provides the basis of a clear understanding of intent and we will see how that intent was implemented, respected and followed for the next 150 years.

(This version is somewhat abbreviated  – see episode 2 (full) for the complete version)

Freedom of Religion Episode 2 (Full )

Freedom of Religion in America – Episode 2 (full 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”) 

Colonial Unification and Constitutional History Related to Freedom of Religion

As described in Episode 1 neither “freedom of religion” nor the concept of or inclination toward  the “Separation of Church and State” were principles in the founding and early expansion of the 13 Colonies.  As the colonies grew over the next 100 years or so and the revolutionary period approached, “state churches” continued to exist in most of the colonies.  The concepts of freedom of religion and religious toleration arose or existed in some regions but there was no organized, concerted effort to extend or push this principle.  More commonly there were prejudicial actions and restrictions placed on individuals and groups who did not belong to the “state” sponsored church.  For example, typically membership in the “state church” was a requirement for holding office in the colony’s government. Each colony functioned relatively independently, and when the colonies did work together it was usually related to common defense, foreign policy, trade or some other economic issue.  And internally, within each colony, because there were more important or more pressing issues to occupy the consciousness of the populous, religious toleration was to a certain extent “unofficially” practiced.

However, the status quo of the Colonies, each to some degree under the thumb of the British King and Parliament, began to change after the French and Indian War (1754-1763).  The Colonists, viewing themselves as British subjects, considered they had the “rights” of British subjects.  Complaints concerning England’s governance of the Colonies arose (taxation, quartering of British soldiers, etc.) and the Colonists considered that the Mother Country was restricting or retracting their rights.  Freedom of religion, however, was not one of the rights about which most Colonists were concerned.  Many were Anglican in the first place, and they did not previously have a religious freedom right under the crown.  Further Britain was not actively involved in the religious affairs of their subjects in the American Colonies.   So religious freedom was not one of the root issues leading to the revolutionary war.  But as a practical matter there were several factors that eventually drove religious freedom to the forefront of the Bill of Rights.

These factors included: (1) the necessity of the religiously disparate colonies to unite, (2) the common sense that recognized the diversity in Christian sects present among the states and within the total population had to be accommodated, (3) recognition of the incongruity of individual liberty and freedom for all and the dictating of a religious belief by a state, (4) the absence of any religious fervor or agenda among the founding fathers toward pushing for any particular Christian sect (and the “Anglican” denomination would certainly not be put forward in that role because of its ties to England), and (5) the religious freedom resolution which was put into the Virginia Constitution in which James Madison participated.  Now let’s explore these factors.

The 13 original colonies were not all that interested in uniting and giving up their “states rights”, not at the time before the Revolutionary War nor even afterward when the time came to prepare a Constitution and form a stronger central government.  However, it must have been evident to the Colonial leaders, like Franklin,  Adams, Washington, Jay, Hamilton and Madison who worked to unite the Colonies, first via the Committees of Correspondence, then under the Articles of Confederation, and finally under the U.S.  Constitution for the governing of the United States, that:

  • there was no need for the individual states, much less the central government, to establish a “state church”
  • it was not reasonable or realistic to establish a single Christian church denomination to which each of the States would be required to adopt and all the people would be required to belong
  • such a requirement would have been antithetical to the cause of individual freedom.

Further at that time in history, Deism (believe in a Supreme Being but not the Christian Gospel) had become common among many, including some of the most influential founding fathers (writers of the constitution).  As a rule deists continued to attend church services (Anglican,  Puritan, Universalist, etc. ) throughout their lives, as it was important in maintaining their social standing.  However, imposing a state church upon the populous would not have been something that all of them would have personally supported.

Thus, upon winning independence from Britain and becoming united Colonies, the freedoms that the colonists had specifically fought for and won became reality.  Freedom of religion, while not a right given much attention with respect to the Revolutionary War, was a byproduct of it.  While a large number of Anglicans and New England Congregationalists may not have even considered freedom of religion an issue (as they essentially had it all along), there were likely a great number of people who recognized and rejoiced in the fact that there was no longer a “state church” and that freedom of religion would become a reality and an acknowledged fact.  The numerous Christian people whose denominations in America had been the receivers of religious intolerance would have been keenly interested in making religious freedom a documented fact in the new country and its constitution.   The need to acknowledge this fact may have been one of the major driving forces behind the need for the Bill of Rights.

One major exception to the general state of ambivalence of the liberated Colonists attention toward documenting religious liberty was in the colony of Virginia. Recall Virginia was one of the colonies that had an established Anglican “state” Church.    Virginia, was alive with the fervor of individual liberties, and one of those liberties that was being abridged was freedom of religion via the imposition of the Anglican Church.  So, not withstanding that the Anglican Church was the church home of most of the prominent Virginia revolutionaries and statesmen who had sought liberty, it was even more so the home church of the British loyalists with whom they had contended.  The patriot revolutionaries including James Madison, George Mason and Thomas Jefferson, who were representatives to the Virginia constitutional convention did not like the idea of the imposition of the requirement for a “state” Anglican Church in Virginia and supported and obtained “a declaration of the free exercise of religion” in their Constitution.   Three years later, state aid to the Anglican Church was cut off and in 1786 (just before the United States Constitutional Convention in 1787) Jefferson’s famous “Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom” was passed by both houses of the state legislature.  This bill stated “all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion”, and guaranteed Virginians that they would not be compelled to “support any religious worship place or ministry whatsoever”.  It took other states many years to include like language in their state constitutions.

The answer to the question of how and why “freedom of religion” become the first and one of the key rights, named in the Bill of Rights despite it not being a key issue driving the Revolution War is now becoming a bit clearer.  But it is still three more years before “Freedom of Religion” becomes an integral part of our founding documents.

As indicated above, at the time the Constitution was being written, maintaining States Rights was the prevailing mentality among the delegates.  Most delegates to the Constitutional Convention in 1787 represented their states with the idea that the central government should be limited.  Thus, the intent and focus of those preparing the Constitution was, that only the powers and responsibilities delegated to the central Government would be covered in the Constitution, everything else, anything that was not specifically identified, would remain with the states or with the people.  (This intent was later captured and still exists in the 10th amendment to the U.S. Constitution.)

Because of the limited delegation of powers intent and focus, James Madison, the prime mover of the Constitution, and other delegates did not consider it necessary for the Constitution to spell out those powers / rights that were not given to the Central Government.  Thus, it is not surprising, especially in light of the discussion above, that there was no consideration and no discussion of a “state church” or in fact anything to do with religion in the Constitution.   There was to be no coercive power, no legislative influence, and no preference to be given to one church denomination over another by the Federal Government.  The Constitution assigned no powers and responsibilities to the central Government regarding religion.  There was no discussion of the concept or idea of the separation of church and state.    By silence on the matter it was clear that the past practice of a “state church” would not be the future practice and thus the Federal Government would not be establishing a “preferred” state sponsored denomination.   Churches (and their status in various states) and the Federal Government were recognized and accepted as distinct institutions.  But importantly, not as conflicting institutions.  Many of the founding fathers considered, just as the Pilgrims did, that the making of America was divinely inspired and divinely led.  James Madison, known as the father of the Constitution, when commenting on the Constitution, stated:  “We have staked the whole future of American civilization, not upon the power of government, far from it. We have staked the future of all of our political institutions upon the capacity of mankind of self-government; upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves, to control ourselves, to sustain ourselves according to the Ten Commandments of God.”   John Adams recognized the opportunity of the American Colonies to found a great democracy of the people as a gift from God and said we therefore “better get it right”.

So on September 17, 1787 the U.S. Constitution was completed and sent to the states for ratification and on June 21, 1788 it was ratified by the 9th state and became the law of the land.  The key aspect of the Constitution with respect to religion was that there would be no “State Church” and in fact the Federal Government was granted no powers with respect to “governing” religion.  However, ratification came with requests from several states that specific rights of the people be spelled out.

That brings us to the end of Episode 2.  In Episode 3 we will learn how James Madison’s simply stated first sentence in the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”, came to be. That statement, which is the only statement concerning religion or the church within the United States Constitution (as amended), provides the basis of a clear understanding of intent and we will see how that intent was implemented, respected and followed for the next 150 years.

Freedom of Religion -Episode 1 (Full)

Freedom of Religion in the United States

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 thestate 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 spilt 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.)                                                

Episode 1 (full version) 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.  Religious intolerance was typically integrally related to the political and military subjugation of one people by another empire or country.  Religious observances by the conquered people were often forbidden or abolished by the conquering country because of the political threat they could present to the control of the country and not because of a desire to “convert” the conquered.  This was not always the case.  The spread of Islam was religiously motivated as well as politically motivated.  The conquered peoples were generally forced to follow the religion of their conquerors.  The Romans on the other hand allowed concurred peoples to maintain their religious observances as long as they also “respected the Roman Gods” – the Jewish people, however, were granted an exemption. Another unusual exception was Akbar (a Muslim ruler) who allowed the Hindus in India to maintain their religious worship. He found this was advantageous in keeping his empire peaceful.

However, more germane to the consideration of the “right” of freedom of religion in America were the internal events in countries in Europe following the Reformation.   There were struggles against religious persecution and the freedom to practice a religion by many Christian sects.  The Moravians struggled against counter reformation governments in Eastern Europe, the Huguenots were persecuted by the Catholic French Government, the Irish Catholics struggled against England, and of course the Puritans had to escape the dictates of Anglican State Church of England.  All of these struggles helped develop the concept of the individual’s right to freedom of religion and to a degree helped ensure that “freedom of religion” was a right that came to be included in America’s Bill of Rights.  However, a common misconception is that Colonial America was a land that promoted and supported “Freedom of Religion”.  The Puritans (called Pilgrims) came to the unsettled American shores so that they could freely practice their religion but they did not endorse the concept of “freedom of religion”.  The Puritans escaped their religious persecution but they did not allow “freedom of religion” in their new lands.

Founding of the 13 Colonies    –   One of our most prized freedoms in the United States is the Freedom of Religion.  How did we come to have that freedom?   A common misunderstanding, based on the well known flight of the Puritans (Pilgrims) to avoid religious persecution in England, is that religious freedom was present here in America from the outset and that its incorporation in the Bill of Rights was just a formal recognition of its long term existence.   Well, surprise!!  The Pilgrims (who actually were of the Puritan religious sect) did not support religious toleration at all, much less religious freedom.   Laws were passed by the Puritans in Massachusetts in 1644 which required exile of Anabaptists and laws were passed which fined ship’s captains for bringing in Quakers to Massachusetts and for whipping and assigning to prison with hard labor any Quakers who managed to gain entry to the colony.  The New England Puritan settlers had very strict laws in their communities requiring adherence to religious and moral precepts of their sect.  Fines or harsh punishments were invoked for not attending church.  The “Code of 1650” established by the colony of Connecticut had as its opening statement: “Whosoever shall worship a God other than the Lord shall be put to death”

The colonists also certainly did not foster the concept of separation of church and state as evidenced in the “immediate act” they passed to govern themselves, which stated:  “We the undersigned, who for the glory of God, the advancement of the Christian faith and the honor of our native land have undertaken to found the first colony on these remote shores, do agree in this document, by solemn and mutual consent before God, to band together in a body politic in order to govern ourselves ——-.”  Everything the early Puritan settlers did centered on their religious beliefs.

Although the details were different and less extreme, the same lack of religious freedom and religious toleration was the norm in most of the other colonies.  The concept of “state churches” or “established” churches was transplanted to many of the American colonies from Europe, where many countries (France, Russia, Greece, Germany, Spain, etc.) had state churches at one time.  The governments of these countries financially supported, legislated for and protected these “state churches”.  Citizens of these countries were born into church membership just as they were born into citizenship.  Nine of the thirteen original colonies carried over this concept by way of their charters form England and thus had “established state churches” during the colonial period.

Most of the original colonies were “Crown Colonies”, that is colonies authorized under the auspices of the King of England.  England at this period in history was Anglican (Church of England  also now referred to as Episcopalian) and thus the official “state church” of these colonies (including 5 southern colonies) was established by charter as Anglican.  Those people who arrived in the colonies and did not practice the “state religion” suffered prejudice, persecution, and discredit.  Basically they were regarded as second class citizens.

Even the colony of Maryland, often thought of as a haven for Roman Catholics within the Colonies, as it was founded by Roman Catholics (the Calverts), was chartered as an Anglican colony.   Catholics although prevalent were denied the right to vote.  Even an Act that sounded good and for which Maryland has been recognized as a leader in religious toleration, the “Maryland Toleration Act” passed by the protestant majority legislature in 1649 was not very progressive with regard to religious freedom.  That Act allowed other religious groups to exist and worship in the colony but retained the Colonies right to withdraw or limit that permission, which it did.  “From 1654 to 1661 and from 1692 to the end of the Revolutionary period, Maryland, in fact nullified its Toleration Act.”

The most fertile seeds for the concept and adoption of “Christian” religious freedom in America were planted in Rhode Island and in Pennsylvania.  Roger Williams, a puritan minister, upon arrival in Boston in 1631, began zealous pursuit of “purifying” the Puritans from association with the King of England and the charters under which they operated.  Puritans were called and were by definition, “Separatists”, as they had separated themselves in England from the Anglican “state church”.    Williams, however, felt that the charter under which these colonists operated violated the Separatist ideal and he continually ran afoul of the neophyte Puritan religious and Civil establishment, including the Plymouth Colony where he initially was favorably received and assisted in ministry.  In addition to separatism he began to speak out for individual religious freedom.  He believed that civil magistrates should not have the authority to punish citizens for “Sabbath-breaking, false worship, and blasphemy, and that every individual should be free to follow his own convictions in religious matters”.  After 5 years, in 1636, he left Massachusetts and founded the Providence Plantation (Rhode Island) which guaranteed freedom of belief  (in a Christian sect) to all, (except outspoken atheists and Roman Catholics).   Later Roman Catholics were permitted in his Rhode Island Colony.   In 1651 England claimed the right to “govern” Rhode Island and in 1663 granted a charter to the Rhode Island and Providence Plantations which acknowledged Rhode Island’s religious freedom practices.

Unlike Rhode Island’s religious tolerance “experiment” developing out of conflict over a civil principle (granting of charters), the Pennsylvania colony was expressly formed to allow freedom of religion.   Pennsylvania was established as a “land grant” colony to satisfy a debt owed by the King of England to William Pitt’s father, not as a “crown” colony.  Thus, Pitt’s objective to create a colony that allowed for freedom of religion (due to his desire to protect himself and fellow Quakers from persecution) was able to be achieved free of the Anglican “state church” requirement.  As a result Pennsylvania became the seat of religious toleration (of Christian sects) within the colonies, welcoming the entire spectrum of sects and mainline Christian churches, from Moravians to Roman Catholics.

Despite the “official state church” concept carried over from England and pervading most of the American colonies,  the influx of settlers from throughout Europe with their varied religious backgrounds infused religious diversity into the population throughout the colonies.  Further the spirit of individualism and the rigorous pursuit of individuals and families to carve out a living, trumped the snobbish “European 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”.  Episode 2 picks up as the 13 “independent” Colonies began to think about joining together to collectively challenge, King George and Britain – the Mother Country over economic issues and the abuse of other rights of  “Englishmen”. Tune in or log on to learn what happens in Episode 2.