William Penn 's Views On Freedom Of Conscience And The Futility Of Freedom

William Penn 's Views On Freedom Of Conscience And The Futility Of Freedom

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Thesis
William Penn, in converting a personal belief in religious freedom into the basis for governing a colony and in time for the nation, proved that religious diversity was beneficial not detrimental to faiths, colonies, and countries.
Background
Penn voluntarily converted from Anglicanism to Quakerism at the ripe age of 22. His father being a highly decorated and wealthy English Admiral, Penn left behind when he became a Quaker and was punished with stints in prison multiple times for his beliefs. Having been a member of both the Anglican Church and the Society of Friends, Penn experienced the majority and repressed religious groups of his country. This duality of experience inspired a belief in freedom of conscience and the futility of the use of coercion to rouse true religious belief. Penn refused to accept the points of view provided by the Erastians and Latitudinarians, in which they touted freedom of religious belief was allowed but government sponsored religious practices must still be upheld. He felt that practice and belief are inextricably linked and true religious freedom couldn’t exist without being able to practice one’s faith.
Penn created a connection between the argument for religious freedom to his belief in the impossibility of compelling a man’s conscience. In his “Address to Protestants,” Penn poses a theoretical argument about the impossible task of restraining true religious belief, stating, “It is not in the Power of any Man or Men in the World, to sway or compel the Mind in Matters of Worship to God.” In a better-known writing, “The Great Case of Liberty of Conscience,” which was written by Penn in Ireland 1670, he argues man should not be “so ignorant as to think it is within the reach of human Pow...


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...nable to swear to something, believing oaths to be territory only God can tread, lead Penn to allow officeholders in Pennsylvania to perform an affirmation. The constitution uses the phrases “oath or affirmation” three times. This pairing not only represents the conscious decision by the Founders, but also gives a nod to Quaker beliefs in a document that has few mentions of religious freedom. The complex issues that led to the Pennsylvania colony opposing the requirement to take oaths may have led to the Founders leaving God and a requirement of religious oath out of the Constitution. Although Quakers seem to be the most obvious party benefitted by allowing affirmations, the clause in a broad manner allows all who are uncomfortable with swearing oaths to choose an affirmation instead, including agnostics, atheists, and people of faiths against the swearing of oaths.

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