Pennsylvania became the second state to join the Union, Dec. 12, 1787. Pennsylvania was where the Continental Congress met, where the Declaration of Independence was signed, and where the Liberty Bell was rung. The Continental Army spent the freezing winter of 1777 at Valley Forge in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania was where the U.S. Constitution was written in 1787, and where the United States Capitol was located from 1790 to 1800.
Pennsylvania was originally given by King Charles II in 1682 to William Penn, the son of the famous Admiral Sir William Penn. A Quaker dissenter, the young William Penn was given control of 45,000 square miles, making him the largest non-royalty landowner in the world.
What did he do with his land? William Penn decided to attempt a “Holy Experiment” – to see if Christians of different denominations could live together. This was unique in the world.
The same time 200,000 Ottoman Turkish Muslims were laying siege to Vienna, Austria, William Penn was insisting on purchasing land from Indians at a fair price and treating them with respect.
Penn wrote in his “Concessions to the Province of Pennsylvania,” July 11, 1681: “Whatever is sold to the Indians, in consideration of their furs, shall be sold in the market place, and there suffer the test, whether good or bad; if good, to pass; if not good, not to be sold for good, that the natives may not be abused. … That no man shall … affront, or wrong any Indian. … He shall incur the same penalty of the law, as if he had committed it against his fellow planter. … If any Indian shall abuse … any planter … that he shall not be his own judge upon the Indian … he shall make his complaint to the governor … who shall … take care with the king (chief) of the said Indian, that all reasonable satisfaction be made to the said injured planter. … All differences, between the planters and the natives, shall also be ended by twelve men, that is, by six planters and six natives; that so we may live friendly together. … The Indians shall have liberty to do all things relating to improvement of their ground, and providing sustenance for their families, that any of the planters shall enjoy.”
On a visit back to England, William Penn met the young Peter the Great of Russia, who was touring Europe to study methods of ship building. Peter attended a Quaker “Friends” meeting. William Penn wrote to Peter the Great, July 2, 1698: “It was a profound respect, and not a vain curiosity, Great Czar, which brought me twice to wait upon thee. My desire was, and is, that as God Almighty has distinguished thee above so many millions of thy fellow-creatures, so thou mayest distinguish thyself above them by an extraordinary zeal for piety and charity which are the two legs the Christian Religion stands upon. … If thou wouldst rule well, thou must rule for God; and to do that, thou must be ruled by Him. … Know, great Czar, and take it with thee as one part of the collection of knowledge thou art making in this unexampled travel that ’tis in this kingdom of England that God has visited and touched the hearts of a people, above forty years ago, by the holy light and at grace of his Son and our Saviour Jesus Christ. By which their minds have been turned from false worship and evil living to worship God, who is a spirit, in and by his own Spirit.”
At this time in history, most countries and colonies permitted only one religion or one Christian denomination. Pennsylvania was unique in that anyone who acknowledged the “one Almighty God” was free to “fully enjoy his or her Christian Liberty.”
This was stated in the colony’s first legislative act, the Great Law of Pennsylvania, Dec. 7, 1682: “No person … who shall confess and acknowledge one Almighty God to be the Creator, Upholder and Ruler of the World … shall in any case be molested or prejudiced for his, or her Conscientious persuasion or practice … but shall freely and fully enjoy his or her Christian Liberty without any interruption.”
Instead of the harsh corporal punishment he experienced while imprisoned in the notorious Tower of London, Penn promoted the idea of putting a criminal in a room with a Bible.
Chuck Colson stated in 1981: “Quakers introduced the concept in Pennsylvania. … The first American prison was established in Philadelphia when the Walnut Street Jail was converted into a series of solitary cells where offenders were kept in solitary confinement. The theory was that they would become ‘penitents,’ confessing their crimes before God and thereby gaining a spiritual rehabilitation. Hence, the name “penitentiary” – as a place for penitents.”
William Penn wrote in “England’s Present Interest Considered,” 1675: “Force makes hypocrites, ’tis persuasion only that makes converts.”
The oldest church in Pennsylvania is Old Swedes’ Gloria Dei Church, which was begun by Lutheran missionary Johannes Campanius in 1646 among Swedish and Finnish settlers.
Pennsylvania then received another wave of immigrants. From 1700 to 1750, Britain’s laws against dissenters drove some 200,000 Scots and Scots-Irish Presbyterians from Scotland and Ireland to America. Most settled in Pennsylvania’s Cumberland Valley and in the western counties of Lehigh, Bucks and Lancaster. In 1706, the first meeting of Presbyterian leaders in America took place in Philadelphia, led by Rev. Francis Makemie.
Beginning in 1720, German and Swiss settlers known as New Baptists, or Dunkers, began arriving in Pennsylvania, together with Anabaptists, Mennonites and Amish. Then arrived Protestant Schwenkfelders from Germany’s Rhine Valley, Alsatia, Suabia, Saxony, and the Palatinate.
Between 1730 and 1740, numerous Lutheran, Reformed, Brethren, and German Baptists congregations were formed in Pennsylvania, sometimes sharing the same buildings, Sunday Schools and ministers. After England’s Reformation in 1534, there were no “English-speaking” Catholic Churchs in the world until 1731, when 22 Irish and 15 Germans founded St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Philadelphia.
In 1739, German Moravians, or Church of the Brethren, led by Count Ludwig von Zinzendorf, settled Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Moravians sent missionaries around the world, including the colony of Georgia, where they worked with Native American tribes, and briefly influenced John and Charles Wesley.
In 1740, several Jewish families organized Pennsylvania’s first congregation, Mikveh Israel, building their first Sephardic synagogue in 1782. The first Ashkenazic synagogue, Rodeph Shalom, was built in 1795.
In 1814, the first Hebrew Bible was printed in Philadelphia by Thomas Dobson, based on the Amsterdam edition, with text prepared by Jonathan (Jonas) Horwitz.
At the age of 29, young Ben Franklin composed a series of pamphlets encouraging tolerance for a new preacher in Philadelphia, as he mentioned in his “Autobiography”: “About the Year 1734, there arrived among us from Ireland, a young Presbyterian Preacher named Samuel Hemphill, who delivered with a good Voice, and apparently extempore, most excellent Discourses, which drew together considerable Numbers of different Persuasions, who join’d in admiring them. Among the rest I became one of his constant Hearers, his Sermons pleasing me, as they had little of the dogmatical kind, but inculcated strongly the practice of virtue, or what in the religious style are called good works. … Those however, of our Congregation, who considered themselves as orthodox Presbyterians, disapprov’d his Doctrine, and were join’d by most of the old Clergy, who arraign’d him of Heterodoxy before the Synod, in order to have him silenc’d. I became his zealous Partisan, and contributed all I could to raise a Party in his Favour; and we combated for him a while with some Hopes of Success. There was much Scribbling pro and con upon the Occasion; and finding that tho’ an elegant Preacher he was but a poor Writer, I lent him my Pen and wrote for him two or three Pamphlets, and one Piece in the Pennsylvania Gazette of April 1735. ”
Bill Fortenberry’s books, “The Christian Pamphlets of Benjamin Franklin (2014),” “Franklin on Faith: The Definitive Guide to the Religion of the First American (2015),” contain statements from Franklin’s pamphlets, such as:
- “I would advise these Reverend Gentlemen impartially to read the Scriptures.”
- “They should acknowledge Jesus Christ to be the Messiah promised by the Prophets, the Son of God.”
- “Those Doctrines delivered by our Savior and the Apostles, which are absolutely necessary to be believed, are so very plain, that the meanest Capacities, may easily understand ’em.”
- “Christ by his Death and Sufferings has purchas’d for us those easy Terms and Conditions of our Acceptance with God, propos’d in the Gospel, to wit, Faith and Repentance.”
- “Christ gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all Iniquity, and purify to himself a peculiar People zealous of Good-Works. And there is scarcely a Chapter in the whole Gospels or Epistles from which this Doctrine can’t be prov’d.”
- “I am conscious I believe in Christ, and exert my best Endeavours to understand his Will aright, and strictly to follow it.”
- “It is the Duty of every christian Minister to explode such Errors, which have a natural Tendency to make Men act as if Christ came into the World to patronize Vice, and allow Men to live as they please.”
In 1747, in response to Spanish and French privateers raiding America’s coast, Ben Franklin composed a proclamation for a general fast, which was approved by Pennsylvania’s Colonial Council and published in the Pennsylvania Gazette, Dec. 12, 1747: “As the calamities of a bloody war, in which our nation is now engaged, seem every year more nearly to approach us … we have, therefore, thought fit … to appoint…a Day of Fasting & Prayer … that Almighty God would mercifully interpose and still the rage of war among the nations & put a stop to the effusion of Christian blood.”
In 1776, just a few months after he signed the Declaration of Independence, Benjamin Franklin served as president of Pennsylvania’s state Constitutional Convention where he signed the state’s first Constitution, Sept. 28, 1776. It was considered “the most radically democratic frame of government that the world had ever seen.”
Pennsylvania’s Constitution stated in Chapter 2, Section 10: “Each member of the legislature, before he takes his seat, shall make and subscribe the following declaration: ‘I do believe in one God, the Creator and Governour of the Universe, the Rewarder of the good and Punisher of the wicked, and I do acknowledge the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be given by Divine Inspiration.'”
In 1817, Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court stated in the case of Commonwealth v. Wolf: “Laws cannot be administered in any civilized government unless the people are taught to revere the sanctity of an oath, and look to a future state of rewards and punishments for the deeds of this life. It is of the utmost moment, therefore, that they should be reminded of their religious duties at stated periods.”
In 1824, Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court, in Updegraph vs. Commonwealth, acknowledged a 1700 law still in force which imposed a penalty upon any who “… willfully, premeditatedly and despitefully blaspheme, or speak lightly or profanely of Almighty God, Christ Jesus, the Holy Spirit, or the Scriptures of Truth.”
Pennsylvania’s Supreme Court continued its Updegraph decision: “Christianity, general Christianity, is, and always has been, a part of the common law of Pennsylvania; Christianity, without the spiritual artillery of European countries; for this Christianity was one of the considerations of the royal charter, and the very basis of its great founder, William Penn; not Christianity founded on any particular religious tenets; not Christianity with an established church, and tithes, and spiritual courts; but Christianity with liberty of conscience to all men.”
The U.S. Supreme Court referred to Pennsylvania’s Updegraph decision in its 1844 case of Vidal v. Girard’s Executors: “We are compelled to admit that although Christianity be a part of the common law of the state, yet it is so in this qualified sense, that its divine origin and truth are admitted, and therefore it is not to be maliciously and openly reviled and blasphemed against, to the annoyance of believers or the injury of the public. Such was the doctrine of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania in Updegraff v. Commonwealth, 11 Serg. & R. 394.”
The U.S. Supreme Court again referred to Updegraph in its 1892 case of Church of the Holy Trinity v. United States: “We find that in Updegraph v. Commonwealth, 11 S. & R. 394, 400, it was decided that ‘Christianity, general Christianity, is, and always has been, a part of the common law of Pennsylvania; … not Christianity with an established church and tithes and spiritual courts, but Christianity with liberty of conscience to all men.’ … And in the famous case of Vidal v. Girard’s Executors, 2 How. 127, 43 U. S. 198, this Court, while sustaining the will of Mr. Girard, with its provision for the creation of a college into which no minister should be permitted to enter, observed: ‘It is also said, and truly, that the Christian religion is a part of the common law of Pennsylvania.'”
Pennsylvania’s Constitutions of 1790, 1838, 1874 and 1968 contain articles incompatible with Sharia Islam’s apostasy laws, which not only deny freedom of conscience, but impose the death penalty for those leaving Islam: Pennsylvania Constitution, Article 9, Section 3 … “That all men have a natural and indefeasible right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own consciences. …”
Pennsylvania’s Constitutions may also be in conflict with modern-day zero-tolerance enforcers of “politically correctness”: Pennsylvania Constitution, Article 9, Section 3 … “That no human authority can, in any case whatever, control or interfere with the rights of conscience.”
The Charter of Privileges Granted by William Penn to Inhabitants of Pennsylvania, Oct. 28, 1701, began: “No People can be truly happy, though under the greatest Enjoyment of Civil Liberties, if abridged of the Freedom of their Consciences, as to their Religious Profession and Worship.”
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