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It has often been stated that this country was originally settled by people escaping religious bigotry and in some cases that’s true. What’s not so often stated is that once here and established, they practiced their own brand of religious bigotry.
One of the best cases in point are the Puritans.
Puritans were firm believers in the “my way or the highway” practice of religion. More often, the “highway” led to the stocks or worse. Non-conformity, religious or political, was NOT tolerated.
In 1636, Roger Williams was found guilty of preaching “newe & dangerous opinions” and was exiled. Banished from Massachusetts, he went a bit south and founded Providence Plantation, a much more tolerant colony. You probably know the area by its present name: Rhode Island. In 1660, they “legally” murdered four Quakers and kicked the rest of them out. The four were condemned to death and executed for their religious beliefs by the Massachusetts Bay Colony Legislature.
There are numerous other examples, but let us jump ahead to what I refer to as the “Hateteenth Century.”
- (1700) New York and Massachusetts solved their Catholic conundrum by kicking out any Catholics in their jurisdictions.
- (1701) North Carolina passed the Vestry Act, making Anglicanism its official religion.
- (1708) Connecticut passed their 1st statute that allowed “full liberty of worship” to Anglicans and Baptists.
- (1771) The State of Virginia jailed 50 Baptists worshipers for preaching the Gospel contrary to the Anglican Book of Common Prayer.
- (1774) Massachusetts Baptists were put in jail for not paying taxes to support the Congregational Church.
- (1777) American Philosophical Society member, Thomas Jefferson, completed his first draft of the “Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom“, which states: “No man shall be forced to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever.”
- (1785) Another APS member, James Madison, penned “Remonstrances Against Religious Assessments” advocating separation of Church and State.
- (1786) The legislature adopted the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, which disestablished the Anglican Church as the official church and prohibited harassment based on religious differences. (Good luck with that one.)
- (1789) The Bill of Rights was ratified. The First Amendment reads: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.“
- (1796) Andrew Jackson opposed the inclusion of the word “God” in Tennessee’s constitution.
- (1796) The Treaty of Tripoli was conducted. Article 11 states: “As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion…”
As you can tell from the bullet points, the tide shifted towards tolerance in the last quarter of the century. However, it obviously didn’t go away. And, as you can see from the chart below, state religions lasted well into the next century.
Time Between Original Colonial Charter and End of State-Supported ReligionSource (with additional information): ProCon.org)
In the 19th Century, we had the rise of the anti-Catholic American Republican Party Most people refer to them as the “Know Nothing Movement”. While not it’s original intent, the tag pretty much sums them up.
In 1915, the second incarnation of the KKK was founded. While the original KKK focused their hatred on n!&&ers and fellow travelers, the “new, improved” version added Jews and Catholics to their hate list. There was rampant anti-Catholicism aimed at Al Smith in his 1928 run for the White House and even charges that JFK would “take his orders from the Pope” in the 1960 presidential campaign.
Things haven’t changed much, though the targeting has shifted. All you have to do is listen to a campaign speech by THE DONALD (aka “hairball”) or any one of a number of right-wing Khristian bible thumpers and pundits when the subject turns to Islam.
In every single case sited, the perpetrators of this religious bigotry were primarily White, Anglo-Saxon Protestants (WASPs) and they are still at it. However, now they’ve added a new twist. This time around, they are the self-proclaimed “victims” in the self-imagined “War on Religion.”
One of their “defensive weapons” in this so-called “War on Religion” has been the distortion of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). The act was originally passed in 1993 to protect the freedom of religious minorities such as Sikhs and native American religious rituals.
Then, “the law of unintended consequences” reared its ugly mug. in 2014, SCOTUS decided in “BURWELL v. HOBBY LOBBY STORES, INC” that since companies are people too, that they had religious rights as well. In that particular case the corporation’s religion didn’t care for contraceptives, so they didn’t have to pay for insurance coverage of the baby blockers.
From that point on “religious freedom” expanded to justify bigotry against the LGBT community. (Kim Davis, anyone?) Laws passed by Alabama, North Carolina and several other “red” states are the latest examples of that.
The ruling has even opened the door to denial of access or even referrals to abortion and contraception. What started out as a needed protective measure has morphed into legalized bigotry.
And, over the last couple of years, there’s been a new twist, or rather an old one, revisited.
In 2013, North Carolina legislators introduced a bill declaring that the state has the right to declare an official religion. The bill argued that states are “sovereign” and the Establishment Clause of the 1st Amendment cannot prevent states “from making laws respecting the establishment of religion.”
The following year, a Mississippi group, Magnolia State Heritage Campaign, circulated an initiative declaring Christianity the state’s official religion. The text of the initiative stated
The State of Mississippi hereby acknowledges the fact of her identity as a principally Christian and quintessentially Southern state, in terms of the majority of her population, character, culture, history, and heritage, from 1817 to the present; accordingly, the Holy Bible is acknowledged as a foremost source of her founding principles, inspiration, and virtues; and, accordingly, prayer is acknowledged as a respected, meaningful, and valuable custom of her citizens. The acknowledgments hereby secured shall not be construed to transgress either the national or the state Constitution’s Bill of Rights.
It failed to get the required 110,000 signatures that time around. However, the way things are going, it may return.
For instance, in that same year, (2014) Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas stated “that in his view the First Amendment religion clauses don’t apply to the states in the first place.”
Most legal experts would argue that the return of state religions is very unlikely. However, most legal experts did not foresee SCOTUS’s ruling that corporations are the equivalent of people.
There is currently one vacant position on the Supreme Court with the likelihood of at least a couple more in the next few years. One more reason to vote for the Democratic nominee in November. The last thing we need are two or three more Clarence Thomases on the bench. And if a Republican wins the White House, that’s probably what we would get!