First Amendment Advocate, Special Issue January 2006
The Newsletter of the Oklahoma Chapter of Americans United
The Original Intent of the First Amendment
Roger Williams (1603-1683) was educated at Cambridge University under the patronage of English Jurist Sir Edward Coke and was a close personal friend of poet John Milton. He fled England during the persecutions led by Anglican Archbishop William Laud. When he arrived in Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1631, he was offered the pastorate of the Congregational church in Boston. He decline the position because he was opposed to the union of church and state. Later, he was expelled from the colony for voicing the unwelcome conviction that the authorities "cannot without a spiritual rape force the consciences of all to one worship."
Banished in the winter of 1636, Roger Williams found a tribe of Native Americans more hospitable than the Puritans of New England. He purchased Rhode Island from the natives, started a town called Providence, and formed the first Baptist church in America in 1638/39. Then Williams and another Baptist, John Clarke, worked for fourteen years to secure a charter for the Colony of Rhode Island that would guarantee religious liberty for all the colony's inhabitants. It was the first charter in the history of the world to secure "a free, full, and absolute liberty of conscience."
Charter of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations
July 15, 1663
. . . And whereas, in theire humble addresse, they have ffreely declared, that it is much on their hearts (if they may be permitted), to hold forth a livlie experiment, that a most flourishing civill state may stand and best bee maintained, and that among our English subjects. with a full libertie in religious concernements; and that true pietye rightly grounded upon gospell principles, will give the best and greatest security to sovereignetye, and will lay in the hearts of men the strongest obligations to true loyaltye: Now know bee, that wee beinge willinge to encourage the hopefull undertakeinge of oure sayd lovall and loveinge subjects, and to secure them in the free exercise and enjovment of all theire civill and religious rights, appertaining to them, as our loveing subjects; and to preserve unto them that libertye, in the true Christian ffaith and worshipp of God, which they have sought with soe much travaill, and with peaceable myndes, and lovall subjectione to our royall progenitors and ourselves, to enjoye; and because some of the people and inhabitants of the same colonie cannot, in theire private opinions, conforms to the publique exercise of religion, according to the litturgy, formes and ceremonyes of the Church of England, or take or subscribe the oaths and articles made and established in that behalfe; and for that the same, by reason of the remote distances of those places, will (as wee hope) bee noe breach of the unitie and unifformitie established in this nation: Have therefore thought ffit, and doe hereby publish, graunt, ordeyne and declare, That our royall will and pleasure is, that noe person within the sayd colonye, at any tyme hereafter, shall bee any wise molested, punished, disquieted, or called in question, for any differences in opinione in matters of religion, and doe not actually disturb the civill peace of our sayd colony; but that all and everye person and persons may, from tyme to tyme, and at all tymes hereafter, freelye and fullye have and enjoye his and theire owne judgments and consciences, in matters of religious concernments, throughout the tract of lance hereafter mentioned; they behaving themselves peaceablie and quietlie, and not useing this libertie to lycentiousnesse and profanenesse, nor to the civill injurye or outward disturbeance of others; any lawe, statute, or clause, therein contayned, or to bee contayned, usage or custome of this realme, to the contrary hereof, in any wise, notwithstanding. . . .
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”
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