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Religious freedom.

The provisions of the first constitutions of the States betrayed a struggle between ancient bigotry and growing liberality. When the Revolutionary War broke out, Congregationalism constituted the established religion in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Connecticut. The Church of England enjoyed a similar civil support in all the Southern colonies, and partially so in New York and New Jersey. Only in Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, and Delaware was the equality of all Protestant sects acknowledged, caused by the lasting impressions given by Roger Williams and William Penn. In the last two colonies this equality was extended to the Roman Catholic Church.

The constitution of Massachusetts seemed to guarantee entire freedom of religious opinions and the equality of all sects, yet the legislature was expressly authorized and implicitly required to provide for the support of ministers, and to compel attendance on their services—a clause against which the people of Boston protested and struggled in vain. The legislature was quick to avail itself of the constitutional requirement and permission. It passed laws subjecting to heavy penalties any who might question received notions, as to the nature, attributes, and functions of the Deity, or the divine inspiration of any book of the Old or New Testament, reviving, in part, the old colonial laws against blasphemy. Similar laws remained in force in Connecticut (under the charter) and were re-enacted in New Hampshire.

In those three States Congregationalism continued to enjoy the prerogatives of an established Church, and to be supported by taxes from which it was not easy for dissenters to escape, nor possible except by contributing to the support of some other Church which they regularly attended. The ministers, once chosen, held their places for life, and had a legal claim for their stipulated salaries, unless dismissed for cause deemed sufficient by a council mutually chosen from among the ministers and members of the neighboring churches.

A great majority of the members of the Church of England were loyalists during the Revolution, and the Church lost the establishment it had possessed in the Southern colonies. In South Carolina the second constitution declared the “Christian Protestant religion” to be the established religion of the State. All persons acknowledging one God and a future state of rewards and punishments were to be freely tolerated; and if in addition they held Christianity to be the true religion, and the Old and New Testaments to be inspired, they might form churches of their own entitled to be admitted as a part of the establishment. In Maryland a “general and equal tax” was authorized for the support of the Christian religion, but no Assembly ever exercised the power to lay such tax. The constitutions of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia expressly repudiated the compulsory system in religious matters, and in the constitution of Virginia no mention was made of the matter. By act, in 1785, all religious tests in Virginia were abrogated. This act was framed by the earnest efforts of Jefferson and Madison, seconded by the Baptists, Presbyterians, and other dissenters. It was to prevent an effort, favored by Washington, Patrick Henry, and others, to pass a law in conformity to the ecclesiastical system in New England, compelling all to contribute to the support of some minister.

By the constitutions of New York, Delaware, and Maryland, priests or ministers of religion were disqualified from [397] holding any political office whatever. In Georgia they could not be members of the Assembly. All gifts for pious uses were prohibited by the constitution of Maryland, except grants of land not exceeding 2 acres each, as sites for churches and church-yards. In several of the States religious tests were maintained. The old prejudices against the Roman Catholic Church could not be easily laid aside. In New Hampshire, New Jersey, North and South Carolina, and Georgia the chief officers of State were required to be Protestants. In Massachusetts and Maryland all officers were required to declare their belief in the Christian religion; in South Carolina in a future state of punishments and rewards; in North Carolina and Pennsylvania to acknowledge the inspiration of the Old and New Testaments; and in Delaware to believe in the doctrine of the trinity . In 1784 Rhode Island repealed a law so repugnant to its charter, by which Roman Catholics were prohibited from becoming voters. The old colonial laws for the observance of Sunday as a day of rest continued in force in all the colonies. The national Constitution (article VI., clause 3) declared that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” At the first session of the First Congress, held March 4, 1789, many amendments to the Constitution were offered, and ten of them were adopted and ratified by the required number of State legislatures in December, 1791. The first amendment was as follows “Congress shall pass no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” This was a direct blow at the clauses dictated by bigotry in several of the State constitutions, and was effectual in time.

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