Roger Williams, William Penn, the Maryland Assembly and Liberty Conscience

Roger Williams, William Penn, the Maryland Assembly and Liberty Conscience

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Roger Williams, William Penn, the Maryland Assembly and Liberty Conscience


The New England colonies of Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, and Maryland [Pa. and Md.are not in New England] were founded with the express purpose of dispensing of with a statechurch [not exactly. Rhode Island was “put together.” Maryland did not have a single statechurch, but the Calverts did not intend to dispense with state support of a church]. In this theydeviated not only from the other British coloes in the New World but also from their Motherlandand indeed all the civilizations of western Christendom to date. Before the founding of RhodeIsland, Pennsylvania, and Maryland these three colonies, a state without an official state churchwas inconceivable. As the Church of England evolved in Britain, the other British colonies inNorth America adopted either Congregationalism, Anglicanism, or Presbyterianism [never a statechurch in the colonies] as their own “state church.” The idea of a state without a state church wasunprecedented (Cohen 9/30).In place of the usual state church, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, and Maryland adopted anew concept: “liberty of conscience.” Here, “liberty” is synonymous with “freedom.” By“conscience” our forefathers meant one's personal religious persuasion and its duties, as RogerWilliams explained to Governor John Endicott: “... I speake of Conscience, a perswasion fixed inthe minde and heart of a man, which inforceth him to judge (as Paul said of himself apersecutour) and to doe so and so, with respect to God, his worship, etc.” (Williams 340) To thefirst citizens of Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, and Maryland, civil “freedom of conscience” wasthe ability to live freely as a member of one's religion-that is, to perform such reli...


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...es and theology as a Quaker came to influence state organization. And in Maryland, aCatholic Assembly maintained minimal [?] Christianity in order to please its Protestantconstituents. Whether three hundred years ago, two hundred years ago, or today, “freedom ofreligion” can easily become used in the interests of those in power.

Works Cited

Cohen, Charles L. Lectures for History 451: Early American Religious History. Fall 1999.

Frost, J. William. “Chapter 1: The Creation of Religious Liberty in Early Pennsylvania,” from A PerfectFreedom.

Hall, Timothy L. Separating Church and State: Roger Williams and Religious Liberty. University of IllinoisPress, Chicago: 1998,Maryland Assembly. “Act Concerning Religion” [ 1649].

Penn, William. “The Great Case of Liberty of Conscience” [1670].

Williams, Roger. “To Governor John Endicott, ca. August-September 1651

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