The idea that Christianity, namely the Puriticanical version, founded America, which is an assumption made by religious and non-religious alike, is inaccurate. This is an assumption which overlooks the religious diversity that actually existed throughout the colonies, as well as ignores the fact that a few colonies were actually founded on the principle of religious freedom. For example, Pennsylvania, which was founded by the Quaker William Penn, allowed all manners of worship from Anglicanism to Judaism to Native traditions; and Rhode Island, which was founded by Roger Williams, who gave Jefferson the idea for “a wall of separation between church and state“, and Anne Hutchinson, also promised religious freedom to all residents. As time progressed more colonies, like Maryland, which passed its Act for Religious Toleration in 1649, began to allow religious freedom; although many did so only in practice and not by law.
When America became a nation, religious freedom was among the primary concerns of the people and the legislators alike, leading to fierce debates over what relationship, if any, should exist between state and religion. These debates eventually culminated in the ratification of the First Amendment, which effectively established secularism of state as the law of the land. Ironically, most of the chief proponents of religious freedom were churches, like the Anabaptist, the Methodist, and the Quakers all of whom petitioned their colonial, then state and federal, legislatures to uphold the truth that religion exists solely between a man and his god and that no government, least of all a republican one (as in a Republic, which is what we are), should attempt to coerce any citizen to believe what his heart and his mind have not determined for himself. In fact, in both the Journal of the Virginia House of Burgess and in the Journal of the House of the Delegates of the Commonwealth of Virginia, there are a multitude of petitions from the mid-1700’s, following the height of the First Great Awakening, through to 1786 when Jefferson’s Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom was enacted as state law, all from the various religious groups demanding religious freedom. There was one petition that even went so far as to argue that religious freedom must also include the “Moslem” (Muslim), who, like the Christian, does also believe that his religion is true. Futhermore, numerous letters were published in various colonial newpapers, such as the Virginia Gazette, throughout the late colonial and early Republican periods, which were written by Americans who argued in favor of laws which protected religious freedom for all.
Therefore, historically speaking, religious diversity, and thus freedom, is the true foundation of this nation. We must stop perpetuating the lie that Christianity, in any single form, is the foundation of America….because it is not. As stated in the Treaty of Tripoli of 1797, it never was and never will be.
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