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The Struggle for Religious Freedom
Religious Freedom: Terminology
- Anti-Catholicism – means expressing stereotypes or prejudices about Catholics or discrimination against Catholics
- Anti-Semitism – means expressing stereotypes or prejudices about Jews or discrimination against Jews
- Atheism – means the disbelief in God
- Sectarian – refers to a perspective on diverse Christian churches in which individuals view their own sect as the “true faith”
- Secular refers to the civic culture of a society that does not reflect ay religious perspective
Freedom of Religion
- Americans believe that the earliest colonists came to what is now the U.S. in order to flee religious persecution and establish a society which offered freedom of religion.
- The truth is that the Puritans and the other early settlers had no intension of granting universal religious freedom to anyone.
- Religious discrimination continued for many years even after America was independent and the US Constitution was written
Religion in America after the Revolution
- Virginia – The official state-supported church was the Church of England. It was not disestablished until 1786
- North Carolina – The state constitution of 1776 restricted public office to all but Protestants and required public officials to take an oath affirming their Christian beliefs
- New Jersey – The state constitution of1776 restricted public office to all but Protestants and required public officials to take an oath affirming their Christian beliefs
- New York – From 1777 to 1806, the state constitution banned Catholics from public office
- South Carolina – The official, state-supported church was the Church of England. It was not disestablished until 1790s. Only Protestants were allowed to serve as public officials
- Delaware, Pennsylvania – Public officials were required to take an oath affirming belief in the Christian Trinity (The Father, Son and Holy Spirit)
- New Hampshire – The official, state-supported church was the Congregational church. It was not disestablished until 1790
- Connecticut – The official, state-supported church was the Congregational church. It was not disestablished until 1818.
- Maryland – Catholics had full civil rights, but Jews did not. Public officials were required to take an oath affirming belief in the Christian Trinity (the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit)
- Georgia – The official, state-supported church was the Church of England. It was not disestablished until 1789. Only Protestants were allowed to serve as public officials until 1777.
- Massachusetts – Only Christians were allowed to hold public office. In order to take office, Catholic officials were required to renounce papal authority. The official, state-supported church was the Congregational Church. It was not disestablished until 1834.
Religious Oppression in America
- Although they were victims of religious persecution in Europe, Puritan colonists in America wanted uniformity of religion in their own communities.
- The Puritans banished dissenters from their colonies, a fate that befell both Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson, America’s first major female religious leader.
- In 1659, Virginia began enacting anti-Quaker laws. Those who defied the Puritans by returning to areas from which they had been banished risked capital punishment.
- Four Quakers were put to death by the Puritans between 1659 and 1661
- By the mid 18th Century, the Great Awakening had began to alter the sectarian view of Christianity.
- By 1850s, the number of Catholics in the United States grew from several hundred thousand to nearly 2 million. The Irish emigrated in large numbers because of the potato famine in England.
- The arrival of so many Catholics fueled Protestant fears and created a climate of suspicion and distrust.
- Because of the historical treatment of those who defied the Catholic Church in the old world, Protestants believed that Catholics would attempt to convert them and their children.
- Philadelphia’s Bible Riots of 1814 reflected a strain of anti-Catholic bias and hostility that coursed through 19th Century America
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