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Americans United for Separation of Church and State
Nashville Chapter
PO Box 210005 . Nashville TN 37221


Eschewing Obfuscation

Conflicts over Religion and Government
written by Charles Sumner

published in the April 23rd edition of the Nashville Free Press


Continuing the historical analysis of the development of separation and church and state.

"We must never allow our children to forget that this is a Christian nation. We must take back what is rightfully ours." Jerry Falwell, sermon, 1993.

[The United States is] "a once-Christian country that has been force-fed the poisons of paganism." Pat Buchanan, Right from the Beginning, 1983.

Roger Williams believed it wrong to tax everyone to support the Puritan church in Massachusetts. He did not think that unbelievers should have to take the oath of loyalty which ended with the words "so help me God." So he was regarded by Puritans as a rebel against God. He also advocated that Puritans (who originally wanted merely to purify it) break entirely with the Church of England. There was therefore the fear that this would incite the wrath of the king and endanger the entire enterprise.

After warning Williams several times that his views were unacceptable, the General Court (governing body) decided to expel him. They intended to put him on a ship back to England. Before they could act, friends warned Williams, and he went off into the cruel New England winter, where he wandered for fourteen weeks, living with friendly Indians. In a poem he wrote:

Lost many a time, I have had no Guide,
No House but Hollow Tree!
In stormy Winter night no fire,
No Food, no company.

In the spring of 1636 he arrived at a place he called Providence and founded what became the colony of Rhode Island. He was able to obtain a Royal Charter which did not recognize the Church of England as the established religion and which provided for "liberty of conscience" - separation of church and state. Charles II regarded this as a "lively experiment." The concept was later incorporated into the charters of some colonies and eventually became the pattern for the new nation - rather than the pattern established by the Puritans.

Of all the colonies only Roger Willliams' Rhode Island could claim true religious freedom. The only other colonies without an establishment of some type were South Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Delaware. And in them full religious liberty still was lacking.

During the Colonial period church and state were strongly linked. There were sometimes tensions between the two, but in most cases the church primarily served the state. And as you have seen, the history of state religions was frequently one of coercion and violence.

From the beginning of recorded human history, leaders of tribes, nations and empires have claimed oversight of the religious affairs of their followers, often claiming to be divine themselves or to be the representatives of the gods. This was true of the Egyptians, the Babylonians, and the Romans. Many European kings as well claimed to be divinely inspired or to be representatives of God.

At the time of Christ, the Roman philosopher Seneca observed that "Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful." There was tension between church and state at various times. For example, in the 13th Century, Pope Innocent III made a claim that the Holy Roman Emperor was subordinate to the pope. This claim was an extension of an earlier claim by Pope Gelasius I that spiritual and temporal authority were equal in status - the so-called "Two Swords" doctrine. However, such claims were hardly persuasive to the temporal authorities.

There is no need to go into great detail about the history of violence related to state religions. Suffice it to say that in the West there were various crusades by the Holy Roman Church against both Muslims and Christian heretics. In the many inquisitions of the Middle Ages, various means of torture were used to bring dissenters to the true religion. After Martin Luther, there were also numerous wars between Catholics and Protestants.



Why Do We Need a Progressive Newspaper?
published in the September 3rd edition of the Nashville Free Press

Jefferson's "Wall of Separation"
published in the August 6th edition of the Nashville Free Press

The Sage of Monticello
published in the June 18th edition of the Nashville Free Press

The Enlightenment and Deism
published in the June 4th edition of the Nashville Free Press

America as a "Religious Refuge"
published in the May 7th edition of the Nashville Free Press

Conflicts over Religion and Government
published in the April 23rd edition of the Nashville Free Press

Roger Williams - Freedom's Forgotten Hero
published in the April 9th edition of the Nashville Free Press

Religious Liberty in Colonial America
published in the March 12th edition of the Nashville Free Press

Religious Liberty Requires Government Neutrality
published in the February 26th edition of the Nashville Free Press

Charles Darwin's 200th Birthday
published in the February 12th edition of the Nashville Free Press

Is Posting the Ten Commandments Moral or Immoral?
published in the January 29th edition of the Nashville Free Press

Three-Minute Introduction to Separation of Church and State
published in the January 15th edition of the Nashville Free Press