Theocracy vs. democracy


Two American colonies were begun with religious freedom as a fundamental element, Maryland in 1634 and Rhode Island in 1636. Maryland was established by Lord Baltimore and his son as a colony in which Catholics could live and worship freely, so religious freedom for all was basic to the colony. Rhode Island was established by Roger Williams after he was expelled from the Massachusetts colony.

The Massachusetts colony's theocracy is revealed by the dominance by the one established church and their brutal suppression of all others. Early they had a law that any Jesuit who entered the colony would be summarily executed. They hanged Quakers. The Salem witch trials were typical of the attitude that often focused its dominance and intolerance on women. Roger Williams was a young pastor who arrived from England but soon angered leaders that resulted in his expulsion from the colony in mid winter. Native Americans befriended him and helped him escape.

By 1776 the other eleven colonies had established churches whose clergy and church buildings were paid for by tax money. Most were de-established within a few years.

Theocracies in most states were less brutal than Massachusetts, yet Virginia's persecuting Baptists prompted James Madison to push successfully for church-state separation for his Virginia. Other states individually ended established churches and by law created church-state separation.

The national Bill of Rights to the Constitution was pushed by James Madison. Religious freedom consists of two clauses called the establishment clause and the free exercise clause: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

In the seminar we discuss the several different wordings about religious freedom moved in the first Senate in response to the action of the House and the lively discussion that led to the final wording.

Copyright © 2005 John F. Yeaman