A Brief History of Puritan Theocracy in America

7 mins read

In England in the 17th century, church and state were one and the same. The Puritans wanted to maintain this paradigm, but it was changing. They left England because they felt they were persecuted. This fact did not mean that they believed in religious tolerance. Their society was a theocracy that governed every aspect of their lives. Freedom of religion and freedom of speech or of the press were as foreign to the Puritans as to the Church of England. When other colonists arrived with differing beliefs, the Puritans drove them out. 

The Puritans were very hostile. For instance, the minister Roger Williams (the founder of what became Rhode Island in 1635) fled Massachusetts after his proposal to separate church and state was met with Puritan hostility. 

The framers of the Constitution thought that one way to avoid the religious intolerance of the Puritan era was to encourage a multiplicity of denominations; the First Amendment specifically prohibits the kind of national religious establishment that had once dominated colonies such as Massachusetts.

The Constitution was written specifically to stop religious bigots from ruling with religion.

Not only did the Puritans want the church to rule, when they came to the new country as immigrants, they wanted to do away with the original natives (no wonder the right are so scared of immigration). The Puritans believed they had a divine right to the land. In fact, English Captain John Mason declared: “Thus, the Lord was pleased to smite our Enemies in the hinder Parts and to give us their Land for an Inheritance.”

To them, colonialism and genocide went hand in hand. 

During the Pequot War, an allied Puritan and Mohegan force under Captain Mason attacked a Pequot village in Connecticut, burning or massacring some 500 Native American women, men and children. 

The Founding Fathers were skeptical of the Christian religion, seeing how Europe had grappled with religious freedom for so long. They wished to mold a new government that allowed a separation from the possibility of such turmoil.

However, there are many misconceptions that we should worry about and things we need to know for our argument. First, there is no mention of separation of church and state in the First Amendment but there is an establishment clause intended to separate church from state. When the First Amendment was adopted in 1791, the establishment clause applied only to the federal government, prohibiting the federal government from any involvement in religion.

By 1833, all states had disestablished religion from government, providing protections for religious liberty in state constitutions. In the 20th century, the Supreme Court applied the establishment clause to the states through the 14th Amendment. Today, the establishment clause prohibits all levels of government from either advancing or inhibiting religion. 

The establishment clause separates church from state but not religion from politics or public life. Individual citizens are free to bring their religious convictions into the public arena. But the government is prohibited from favoring one religious view over another or even from favoring religion over non-religion.

Our nation’s founders disagreed about the exact meaning of “no establishment” under the First Amendment; the argument continues to this day. But there was and is widespread agreement that preventing the government from interfering with religion is an essential principle of religious liberty. 

All of the framers of the Constitution understood that “no establishment” meant no national church and no government involvement in religion. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison believed that without separating church from state, there could be no real religious freedom.

The first use of the “wall of separation” metaphor was by Roger Williams. Any government involvement in the church, he believed, corrupts the church. 

Then in 1802, Thomas Jefferson, in a letter to the Danbury Baptist Association, wrote: “I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church and State.”

Now we have to remember that the reason Roe v. Wade was overturned is because there is no mention of abortion in the Constitution. This Supreme Court is originalist. 

This originalism is why the likes of Rep. Lauren Boebert talk about there being no separation of church and state. They are attacking the “establishment clause” I mentioned. This is also what the Supreme Court is doing: chipping away at the things that are not strictly in the Constitution. 

On June 27, the Court backed a Washington State public high school football coach who was suspended by a local school district for refusing to stop leading Christian prayers with players on the field after games. 

On June 21, it endorsed allocating taxpayer money for religious schools in rural areas of Maine that lack nearby public high schools. 

On May 2, it ruled in favor of a Christian group that sought to fly a flag emblazoned with a cross at Boston City Hall under a program aimed at promoting diversity and tolerance among the city’s different communities. 

And now we have the Roe v. Wade decision. This country is headed toward no separation between church and state. That’s why Trump was here, to fill the Court with constitutional originalist justices to assure a theocratic country. 

And please stop saying that they want to take us back to the 1950s. 

They want to take us back to the 1650s.

This article originally appeared as a Twitter thread. Read and follow @SpockResists.


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