Genealogy from the perspective of a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon, LDS)

Sunday, October 2, 2016

What is Religious Freedom in the United States? Part Two: Examining more of the orgins

The concept of religious freedom in America originated at different times and places. Two of the most prominent and influential men in the early development of religious freedom were Roger Williams in Rhode Island and William Penn in Pennsylvania. There are two main issues that were the concern of both of these early advocates. First was the separation of the church and the state and second was the "liberty of conscience" or as it is commonly called today, the free exercise of religion.

While it is true that many of the original immigrants to America came to escape religious persecution, it is also true that some of the colonies were intolerant of any beliefs other than those of the dominant settlers. Religious freedom had been an issue in England

Roger Williams came to America to escape extreme persecution and imprisonment for his religious beliefs. When he arrived in the Massachusetts colony, he was eventually also subject to persecution and left to found his own colony in Providence Plantation, now officially called the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.

Roger Williams, during a trip back to England to obtain a charter for the settlement of Rhode Island, wrote about his own religious persecution and that of others. The following is an early publication of his :

Williams, Roger, John Cotton, John Murton, and Edward Bean Underhill. 1848. The bloudy tenent of persecution for cause of conscience discussed: and, Mr. Cotton's letter examined and answered. London: J. Haddon.

The pertinent parts of this document state:
Fourthly. The doctrine of persecution for cause of conscience, is proved guilty of all the blood of the souls crying for vengeance under the altar.  
Fifthly. All civil states, with their officers of justice, in their respective constitutions and administrations, are proved essentially civil, and therefore not judges, govern ors, or defenders of the spiritual, or Christian, state and worship.
After returning to America, Roger Williams formed a government in Rhode Island along the principles that he had outlined in his earlier work. Here is a quote from the Charter of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations - July 15, 1663:
And whereas, in theire humble addresse, they have ffreely declared, that it is much on their hearts (if they may be permitted), to hold forth a livlie experiment, that a most flourishing civill state may stand and best bee maintained, and that among our English subjects. with a full libertie in religious concernements; and that true pietye rightly grounded upon gospell principles, will give the best and greatest security to sovereignetye, and will lay in the hearts of men the strongest obligations to true loyaltye: Now know bee, that wee beinge willinge to encourage the hopefull undertakeinge of oure sayd lovall and loveinge subjects, and to secure them in the free exercise and enjovment of all theire civill and religious rights, appertaining to them, as our loveing subjects; and to preserve unto them that libertye, in the true Christian ffaith and worshipp of God, which they have sought with soe much travaill, and with peaceable myndes, and lovall subjectione to our royall progenitors and ourselves, to enjoye; and because some of the people and inhabitants of the same colonie cannot, in theire private opinions, conforms to the publique exercise of religion, according to the litturgy, formes and ceremonyes of the Church of England, or take or subscribe the oaths and articles made and established in that behalfe; and for that the same, by reason of the remote distances of those places, will (as wee hope) bee noe breach of the unitie and unifformitie established in this nation: Have therefore thought ffit, and doe hereby publish, graunt, ordeyne and declare, That our royall will and pleasure is, that noe person within the sayd colonye, at any tyme hereafter, shall bee any wise molested, punished, disquieted, or called in question, for any differences in opinione in matters of religion, and doe not actually disturb the civill peace of our sayd colony; but that all and everye person and persons may, from tyme to tyme, and at all tymes hereafter, freelye and fullye have and enjoye his and theire owne judgments and consciences, in matters of religious concernments, throughout the tract of lance hereafter mentioned; they behaving themselves peaceablie and quietlie, and not useing this libertie to lycentiousnesse and profanenesse, nor to the civill injurye or outward disturbeance of others; any lawe, statute, or clause, therein contayned, or to bee contayned, usage or custome of this realme, to the contrary hereof, in any wise, notwithstanding. And that they may bee in the better capacity to defend themselves, in theire just rights and libertyes against all the enemies of the Christian ffaith, and others, in all respects, wee have further thought fit, and at the humble petition of the persons aforesayd are gratiously pleased to declare, That they shall have and enjoye the benefist of our late act of indempnity and ffree pardon, as the rest of our subjects in other our dominions and territoryes have; and to create and make them a bodye politique or corporate, with the powers and priviledges hereinafter mentioned.
If you can make you way through this long paragraph, you will see the seeds of the concepts of both the Establishment and Free Exercise references in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution that came just a little over a hundred years later. The real issue here was using the political force of the civil government to favor or promote one religious sect over another otherwise know as the separation of church and state. However, it is also equally as clear that by taking this position these early writers had no intention of separating "religion" from the state.

Later, William Penn incorporated the same ideas in his Frame of Government of Pennsylvania May 5, 1682. The pertinent provisions of that document are as follows:
XXXV. That all persons living in this province, who confess and acknowledge the one Almighty and eternal God, to be the Creator, Upholder and Ruler of the world; and that hold themselves obliged in conscience to live peaceably and justly in civil society, shall, in no ways, be molested or prejudiced for their religious persuasion, or practice, in matters of faith and worship, nor shall they be compelled, at any time, to frequent or maintain any religious worship, place or ministry whatever.
We can see that despite the failings of some of the other colonies, in both Pennsylvania and Rhode Island, the concept of religious freedom was considered a fundamental "right."

This is an ongoing series. I suggest you may wish to read previous posts.

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