How did America go from Pilgrims seeking freedom to express their Judeo-Christian beliefs to today’s discrimination against those very beliefs in the name of tolerance?
The journey of the evolution of tolerance began in England. When Henry VIII’s divorce was not recognized by the pope, he decided to be his own “pope” of the Church of England and eventually had six wives, their fates being divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived.
His advisers suggested that to solidify his break with Rome, he should replace the Latin Bible with an English Bible so people there would look to England for their spiritual heritage. Henry did so, but something unexpected happened – people began to read the Bible and compare what was written in it to the king divorcing and beheading his wives.
This group wanted to purify the Church of England, resulting in their nickname, “Puritans.” The king did not think he needed purifying, so he persecuted them, resulting in 20,000 Puritans fleeing to Massachusetts, where they tolerated … only Puritans.
Roger Williams was not tolerated in Massachusetts, so he fled, founding Providence, R.I., and the first Baptist church in America. Thomas Hooker was not tolerated, so he fled, founding Hartford, Conn., and the Congregational Church. The Quakers, considered heretics, were not tolerated and, with leader William Penn, they founded Pennsylvania. Within a generation, tolerance developed for all Protestant denominations.
Another generation went by, and Catholics began to be tolerated. Maryland was the first colony to tolerate Catholics with its Toleration Act; Philadelphia built its first Catholic church in 1731; and in 1776, one of 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence was Catholic, Charles Carroll, who was the richest man in America, and his cousin started Georgetown.
In the early 1800s, French enlightenment thought experienced a period of popularity in New England, and tolerance was extended to “liberal” Christian denominations, such as Unitarians and Universalists, as they quoted from the Bible and called themselves followers of Christ.
The expanding Christian populace decided to promote tolerance of non-Christians, based on Jesus’ example of never forcing anyone to believe in him, and that to be pleasing to God, true religion was voluntary from the inside-out, not forced from the outside-in. To fulfill the Great Commission, therefore, those of other faiths should be allowed to come in so they might have an opportunity to hear the Gospel.
Jews experienced varying degrees of tolerance, but it was not until 1851 that Maryland’s Constitution was amended to let Jews hold office. In 1860, Morris Jacob Raphall was the first Rabbi ever to open a session of Congress with prayer, and President Lincoln was the first to allow Hebrew chaplains in the military.
In the second half of the 1800s, tolerance was extended to monotheists – anyone believing in one God. U.S. coins were inscribed with the National Motto, “In God We Trust,” – not “gods.” Oaths of office ended with “So Help Me God,” – not “gods.” A monotheistic God was acknowledged in federal courts, which open with the invocation “God save the United States and this honorable court.” Presidents acknowledged God in their Inaugural Addresses, and each of the 50 state constitutions made reference to God.
Many state constitutions forbade citizenship to Chinese, Japanese and other “Mongolian” races, in part because they were polytheists, believing in many gods. In the early 1900s, tolerance began to expand to polytheists and finally believers in any other religion.
Then, in the last half of the 1900s, tolerance went out to atheists, secular humanists and the anti-religious.
Today, the government’s World Factbook link lists the United States as being 78 percent Christian (52 percent Protestant, 24 percent Catholic, 2 percent Mormon), 1 percent Jewish, 1 percent Muslim, 10 percent other, and 10 percent none. Ten years ago, it listed the country as 84 percent Christian. But back at the time of America’s founding, this percentage was well over 90 percent.
America’s predominately Christian founders – basing their concept on the Golden Rule from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, “do unto others as you would have them do undo you,” and Jesus’ example of never forcing anyone to believe in him – enlarged the circle of tolerance by attempting to find common ground with the newly arrived immigrants and newly invented beliefs.
The problem today is those “not believing” are now demonstrating intolerance to those “believing,” as seen by many activist court cases to remove God from the Pledge, prohibit Ten Commandments monuments, erase Judeo-Christian symbols off city seals, stop prayer at school ball games and graduations, ban Boy Scouts and Salvation Army, and censor historical documents. They are, in effect, establishing a State Religion of Atheistic Secular Humanism.
President Reagan, Feb. 25, 1984, stated: “We’re told our children have no right to pray in school. Nonsense. The pendulum has swung too far toward intolerance against genuine religious freedom. It is time to redress the balance.”
William J. Federer, is a best-selling author and the president of Amerisearch Inc., a publishing company dedicated to researching America’s noble heritage. He is the author of the new book “Backfired.”