The Framers’ Debates on Religion
The First Amendment and the Utah Constitution
Lesson I. Historical Background
Step 3. Toleration Timelines
A. Religious Persecution in Europe
The first clause of the Magna Carta stated that “the English church shall be free, and shall have its rights undiminished and its liberties unimpaired.”
King as Head of Church
King Henry VIII becomes the supreme head of the newly formed protestant Church of England (Anglican), a separate Christian religion from the Roman Catholic Church. Henry executed anyone who refused to acknowledge his role as head of the protestant Church.
Queen Mary I
King Henry VIII’s daughter Mary Tutor became the Queen of England. In fierce opposition to the English Protestant reformation started by her father, she changed the monarchy’s official state religion to Catholic. Queen Mary married King Philip II of Spain and had protestants killed, giving her the nickname, “Bloody Mary.”
Queen Elizabeth I
B. Colonial America
Puritans founded the Colony of Massachusetts in 1630. They sought to “purify” the English church through colonial laws, whereas, Pilgrims advocated for the disunion of the church and the colony. In 1647, the colony passed the Act Against Heresy, sentencing to death dissenters of the Puritan Church. That year the colony also enacted the Old Deluder Satan Act, mandating Bible classes for all children, and worship laws that required church doors remain locked for the duration of worship services. In 1661, the colony killed by hanging May Dyer and three other Quakers, leading King Charles II to issue an act of toleration that proclaimed, “We do here will and require and command that liberty of conscience be allowed to all persons.” However, from 1659 to 1681 the colony banned the celebration of Christmas to promote Puritanism and prevent materialism and drunkenness.
Colonial Rhode Island
The Colony of Virginia issues laws against Quakers (arrested, punished, banished), against Puritans (deemed heretics and expelled), and against Catholics (expelled; barred from political office; barred from proselytizing). In 1662 Governor Berkeley issued “Virginia’s Cure,” issuing fierce governmental control of Anglican clergy to regulate their ministries and prevent them from drinking and gambling.
In 1689, Philosopher John Locke publishes A Letter Concerning Toleration in England, arguing that American colonists should enjoy full religious toleration and liberty. His writings influenced the Framers’ work when forming the United States government.
That year, Following the Glorious Revolution, in which the British monarchy changed due to religious competition between Catholics and Protestants, the English Parliament passed another Act of Toleration.
Salem Witch Trials
The colony of Massachusetts arrested 160 residents and sentenced to death 20 people part of the Salem “witch” trials. In 1697, the colony issued an apology, a moment that is captured in the famous painting that is currently displayed in the Massachusetts State House entitled “Dawn of Tolerance.”