Religious Freedom

17 Jan

Religious freedom has been a cornerstone of this country.  I remember the history classes throughout elementary and secondary school that stressed that point.

  • Pennsylvania became a haven in the New World for the Society of Friends (Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission, 2015).[1]
  • Maryland was to be a refuge for Roman Catholics who were being persecuted in England (, 2016).
  • Pilgrims and Puritans founded the Massachusetts Bay Colony (, n.d.). Good grief, this even flowed over into American Lit with Puritan readings like Jonathan Edwards’ sermon Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God; consequently, the Pilgrims and Puritans received the most attention throughout my early education.  (Perhaps it had something to do with that Thanksgiving thing.)
  • Rhode Island became a refuge for those persecuted for their religious beliefs not only in the Old World but also in the New World (, n.d.) although this information was tactfully suppressed until discovered in college.
  • Utah was always mentioned when discussing Manifest Destiny as the terminus of the Mormon exodus from Illinois after the assassination of Joseph Smith, Jr., founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and his brother Hyrum in Illinois (Rood & Thatcher, 2017).

On January 16, 1786, the Virginia General Assembly enacted the Statute for Religious Freedom (Virginia Historical Society, n.d.).  The Act recognized that religious freedom is a “natural right of mankind” (Thomas Jefferson Writings, 1984, p. 348).

As the Statute for Religious Freedom was a restriction on the power of the state of Virginia to impose a state religion[2] so to is the First Amendment freedom of religion clause a restriction on the power of the federal government.

The United States is blessed with a multitude of religious beliefs.[3],[4]


Although the chart suggests that Christians make up nearly eighty (80) percent of the religious in the United States, it should also be noted that that percentage is representative of approximately one hundred and sixty-eight (168) distinct groups under that banner[5] (Janssen, Liu, & Ross, 2015).

Beyond the label Christian, there are more questions than answers.

There are questions regarding church organization, e.g., that continuum from individual congregations through synods or diocese through regional or national to some centralized, worldwide authority.

There are questions of authority: Bible, the 39 Articles, the Book of Common Prayer, the Book of Concord, Book of Mormon, or individual revelations from God that become church doctrine.

There are questions about baptism.  When should it occur?  How should it occur?  Is it with water or is it spiritual?

There are questions about the Eucharist or Lord’s Supper and how often it should be celebrated.

There are questions about the religious celebration itself.  Should there be music?  If there is music, should it be instrumental?  Should it be an elaborate ritual?  Should it be a simple service?  Should there be a minister or priest?  What should be the focus of the celebration: the Lord’s Supper, the sermon, testimony, prayer, evangelical fervor, a profession of faith or recitation of a creed, etc.?

Even today, there are questions of how ecumenical the church is.  How well do they play with other religions?  How well do they play with other Christians?

It’s our own perspective that colors how these questions are answered.  We must continue to remember, however, that (1) religious freedom was one of the prime motivators in the creation of this country and (2) laws such as the First Amendment to the Constitution and Virginia’s Statute for Religious Freedom insure that the door of religious freedom remains open for everyone and makes room for all religions in this country.  Afterall, one of our founding fathers recognized that religious freedom was a “natural right of mankind” (Thomas Jefferson Writings, 1984).

Think about it!

References (2016, March 25). The Settlement of Maryland. Retrieved from History:

Janssen, S., Liu, M. L., & Ross, S. (Eds.). (2015). The World Almanac and Book of Facts. New York: World Almanac Books.

Jefferson, T. (1984). Thomas Jefferson Writings. New York: The Library of America.

Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission. (2015, August 26). The Quaker Province. Retrieved from Pennsylvania History:

Rood, R., & Thatcher, L. (2017). Mormon Settlement. Retrieved from Utah History to Go: (n.d.). Massachusetts Bay Colony. Retrieved from United States History: (n.d.). Roger Williams. Retrieved from United States History:

Virginia Historical Society. (n.d.). Thomas Jefferson and the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. Retrieved from Virginia Historical Society:



[1] In Jefferson’s Autobiography, he noted that Virginia was very intolerant of Quakers (Thomas Jefferson Writings, 1984).

[2] In Jefferson’s Autobiography, he noted that the charter granted to Sir Walter Raleigh contained a provision noting that the true Christian faith was the Church of England (Thomas Jefferson Writings, 1984).

[3] “New religionists include followers of Asian new religions, radical new crisis religions, and non-Christian syncretistic mass religions” (Janssen, Liu, & Ross, 2015, p. 700 Note).

[4] Other includes Baha’l Faith, Chinese Folk Religions, Ethnoreligious, Hinduism, Jainism, Shintoism, Sikhism, Spiritualism, Taoism, and Zoroastrianism (Janssen, Liu, & Ross, 2015, p. 700 Note).

[5] I suspect that there are more than that.  Religious groups having less than 40,000 members were not reported.  On a recent road trip, I noted many churches bearing names that made no reference whatsoever to any of the 168 groups on the list in The World Almanac and Book of Facts.


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