The Framers’ Debates on Religion

The First Amendment and the Utah Constitution

Lesson I. Historical Background

Step 5. Established Churches

Welcome & Overview


Hi there, it’s me, Eleesha. This part is about the historical background of religion in revolutionary America. I’m going to summarize and introduce established churches in the colonies and how they started to change. You’ll also see some interactive maps in this section to learn about the religious diversity across the colonies. In the last part, you learned about how kings and queens used to force people to worship in particular ways. Kings and queens even sometimes killed people who didn’t worship the way they commanded. In this part, you’ll learn about how each of the American colonies treated religion differently. Most colonies had established churches, meaning they had a government church run by tax money that everyone had to worship in. Three colonies had had no established churches: Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Delaware. Then you’ll learn about how over time, more and more people rebelled against these established churches and worshipped in their own ways. This rebellion was inspired by the Great Awakening of the 1730s and 1740s, which encouraged people to focus on their own personal religious experience, not what church authority told them to do. The Great Awakening sparked lots more religious diversity in the colonies. Join me to learn all about it.

Read Transcript of Video Collapse


Established Churches in the Colonies and Religious Diversity Each American colony developed uniquely in terms of religion. Most of the colonies created established churches–or churches run by tax money–but not all the established churches were the same denominations. Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Hampshire established Congregationalists churches, after the tradition of the Puritans. Virginia and the Carolinas established the Anglican Church, also known as the Church of England. New York, Maryland, New Jersey and Georgia each had established churches, but which faith tradition ran the established church changed over time. Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, and Delaware never had established churches. Pennsylvania was founded by William Penn, an English Quaker who created a haven for Quakers and others who were religiously persecuted. Rhode Island was founded by a radical Puritan turned Baptist preacher, Roger Williams, who believed in an extreme version of freedom of conscience, allowing anyone to worship as their mind and heart led them to do. Strong Jewish communities thrived in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Newport, Rhode Island because these colonies respected religious diversity.

In the 1730s and 1740s, the Great Awakening transformed the American religious landscape, swelling the ranks of religious communities such as Baptists, Methodists and Presbyterians who lived throughout the colonies and did not belong to established churches. The Great Awakening was a religious movement that emphasized the importance of the individual spiritual experience and deemphasized the power of church authority and doctrine. As religious diversity in each of the colonies grew, the English Act of Toleration from 50 years before began to be periodically applied in the colonies. This law made it so dissenters–those who chose to worship outside of the established church–were allowed to gather in meetings, but they were still required to pay taxes to support the established church and were often persecuted for being different.

Read Transcript of Presentation Collapse
Lesson I. Step 5 of 9


Learn more about how to promote the 3Rs — rights, responsibility, respect — in your school and community.