The Pilgrim’s journey to Plymouth Rock began in the mid-16th century with the adoption, in England, of the Act of Uniformity. Under the 1559 Act, it was illegal not to attend official Church of England services and people were fined for every missed Sunday.
A group later known as The Pilgrims, already had adopted the ideas of Richard Clyfton believing their differences with the Church of England were irreconcilable and that their worship should be organized independently of the trappings, traditions, and organization of a central church. Pilgrims maintained that their congregations needed to be separated from the English state church.
Of course, the Church of England was the state church and the government did not embrace the Pilgrims need to be separate in their religious beliefs. The conflict resulted in the Pilgrims traveling to The Netherlands and eventually, in 1620 arriving in what is now Massachusetts.
The Pilgrims fled the intolerance of a government that limited religious freedom to practice religion in their own way. Religious liberty is the ability to practice religion according to your own beliefs and not being forced to practice religion according to someone else’s beliefs.
The Pilgrims soon forgot what religious liberty was and imposed their religious beliefs and practices on all those who lived in their colony. The best-known example of the Pilgrims intolerance is the banishment of Roger Williams (not the singer) in 1636 because he would not accept the Pilgrims religious practices. For those who might have forgotten who Williams is, he is the founder of Rhode Island.
My fear is that we are currently amid a movement in some quarters of the religious world to undo religious liberty in the name of religious liberty. Religious liberty is not demanding others practice religion like you do. Religious liberty is the ideal of different religious beliefs living side by side tolerating each other. The Founding Fathers worked hard to ensure religious freedom (liberty) for the citizens of the United States. The signers of the Constitution recognized the need for each citizen to practice their religion in their own way. Folks who claim The United States is a Christian Nation are very much mistaken. The Constitution never mentions “Christian” or “Jesus”. Instead the Constitution simply acknowledges a power greater than our own, “God”.
The writers of the Constitution did not want a state church with its inherit intolerance for differences in religious beliefs. The Constitution has been a wonderful platform of religious liberty as seen by our population. Our Country is one populated by Christians, Muslims, Jews, Atheists and a whole collection of other religions. The Constitution has enabled our Nation to grow in religious liberty.
Religious liberty in a nation means the population is tolerant of all religious beliefs. We lose our religious liberty when one religion demands the government pass laws making that religion’s beliefs the law of the land. Government laws that limit one religion from practicing their beliefs in favor of another religion’s beliefs is a loss of religious liberty.
Movements to pass laws favoring one religion over another is a dangerous journey toward a State Church and the accompanying intolerance of those who believe differently. Tolerance of other religious beliefs is the core of religious liberty. I fervently hope we do not make the same mistake the Pilgrims made by creating an intolerant State Church that snuffs out all other religious liberty.
See you next time