September 22

Blog #1 – Freedom of religion, Puritan-style

miles-det1I’ve been thinking about freedom of religion a lot lately, given the controversy over the mosque near Ground Zero in NYC.  It seems convenient that the hype has been all whipped up just in time for the midterm elections – to distract us from how bad the economy really is?  Or maybe it’s just a summer news story that won’t go away? 

It begs the question: does opposition to the placement of a mosque (regardless of where it is) violate the First Amendment right to the freedom of religion? 

Before we answer this question, we should look at America’s earliest history of religious (in)tolerance.

In December 1620, the Pilgrims, a group of Separatists, arrived “on the stony coast of New England… with a total of 102 persons” aboard the Mayflower.  They were part of the Virginia Company and should have landed somewhere in that colony where they could practice their religion free of interference from King James I, the Dutch (where they had originally fled to in 1608), or the dreaded Pope.  These Separatists/Pilgrims weren’t really happy with allowing just anyone into their church, but since very few of them were really good sailors or frontiersmen, they had to bring some of those “undesirables” or non-visible saints along with them.   Myles Standish (pic at left) was one of these folks, and he proved indispensable.  There was no greeting party awaiting their arrival.   Only 44 survived that awful first winter. 

Once the Pilgrims were finally settled, their elected leader, William Bradford worried that those pesky “independent, non-Puritan settlers…might corrupt his godly experiment in the wilderness”  (Kennedy, et. al. 44).  This is probably why the Plymouth settlement remained small, around 7,000 inhabitants, by the time it merged with the much larger colony to the north, Massachusetts Bay, in 1691. 

Now to the Puritans, a more moderate sect of the Church of England, who wanted to reform it of its Catholic ways from within.  These Puritans didn’t like the C of E’s reliance on bishops or a king as the head of its church (which King Charles I was by 1629), but when Charles and his appointee, Archbishop of Canterbury Laud, began persecuting Puritans, John Winthrop and other leading Puritans decided that it was time to leave their mother country and head to the established Massachusetts Bay Colony.  

Let’s see how the Puritans do with two famous dissenters:

1. Anne Hutchinson (1591-1643) – described as an “exceptionally, intelligent, strong-willed and talkative woman,” Anne questioned the doctrine of pre-destination by stating that it was foolish to think a holy life was a sign that God had saved you.  She even went a step further and added that the truly saved don’t need to follow any laws, man’s or God’s, b/c they’re already saved.   When she stated that these insights came to her in vision from God, the Puritan ruling elite sent her pregnant self and her family to Rhode Island in 1638.   When she moved to New York, almost all of her family was killed by Indians which John Winthrop saw “God’s hand” in this.  Ouch!

2. Roger Williams – Roger arrived as a personable preacher and teacher in Salem in February 1631 at the age of 27.  The text describes him as a “young man w/ radical ideas and an unrestrained tongue…he hounded fellow clergymen to make a clean break with the corrupt Church of England” (Kennedy, et. al. 47).  Williams questioned three major Puritan issues:

  1. The right of the colonists to keep the land they’re on: Williams felt that the power of King Charles to issue a charter in the New World was null and void b/c the English claimed this land (Massachusetts) that was already being used by others (Native Americans);
  2. He was a radical Separatist (like the Pilgrims) and considered the rest of the non-Separatist Puritans he lived amongst to be sinners b/c they still considered themselves part of the Church of England (Anglican Church).  Williams felt that all of the Puritans were damned unless they “publicly apologize for having ever worshipped in [Anglican churches] back in England” (Vowell 100);
  3. Williams also attacked the Puritans’ use of civil government to regulate religious affairs (like punishing someone for not going to church).  He was asking for the novel concept of the separation of church and state, because as he stated, religion had been used in the past by governments like a hammer to kill hundreds of thousands, if not millions. 

Under intense pressure, Williams later apologized for his “rash” statements, but eventually, he kept going farther and farther with his teachings. Puritan leaders were worried about him creating a colony of cranks and non-conformists, so they continually pressured him to shut up.  He escaped the Bay Colony in 1636 and got to Providence, Rhode Island where he built what was probably the first Baptist church in America. 

So, with these two religious rebel loud-mouths, the Puritans either kicked them out or made it so uncomfortable that they left.  Rhode Island became a refuge for complete religious tolerance (even Jews and Catholics), the model that modern Americans should point to when they discuss religious freedom. 

But how do you deal with people who wouldn’t leave and kept coming back?  Well, the Puritans had to put up with the Quakers (who were much more radical back in the 1600s than their laid back image today) invading their territory.  Each group believed the other to be heretics, but the Quakers had a love of martyrdom (according to historian Daniel Boorstin) back then, and so they continued to go to the Bay Colony in order to save Puritan souls.  In order to keep the Quakers out, the Puritans passed some laws with brutal punishments:

  • 30 lashes with a 3-cord knotted whip;
  • solitary confinement in a bare cell w/ no food or drink;
  • imprisonment for 9 weeks in the winter w/o fire for warmth;
  • during this imprisonment, the Quakers were whipped 2x a week;
  • boring a hole in a prisoner tongue w/ a hot iron;
  • the lopping off of ears;
  • when all of this would fail, five Quakers, including at least one mother, were hanged. 

To be fair to the Puritans, they didn’t wholeheartedly embrace the death penalty – it passed the House of Deputies by one vote in 1658 (Boorstin 38).   In fact, English King Charles II had to put a stop to the violence and religious persecution by combining almost all of the New England colonies into one body to be ruled by a royal governor. 

So, your questions to answer:

1. Whom (which colonial group or individual) do we resemble most when we (collectively as Americans) lump a religion like Islam together with its worst elements?   Why?

2. Why can’t a religious community like the Puritans (or a modern day equivalent) be allowed to exist by itself, choose its own members, and have the freedom to do what it wants in America? 

3.  Does opposition to the placement of a mosque (regardless of where it is) violate the First Amendment right to the freedom of religion?

Due Friday, September 24.   

200 word minimum. 

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Posted September 22, 2010 by geoffwickersham in category Blogs

58 thoughts on “Blog #1 – Freedom of religion, Puritan-style

  1. Conor F.

    1. When we as Americans collectively group a religion together with its worst element we are acting the most like the puritans. The puritans believed that everyone that was not a puritan to be damned to a life of sin. When we group all Muslims by the actions of a few we are acting along the same lines as the puritans in that we are believing that they are all sinners.
    2. A religious group like the puritans could not exist in America because it would be so un tolerating of other groups that is a core belief of the united states being religous tolerence. The puritans would have shamed other groups and possible could start religious riot.
    3. The opposition to the mosque is completely legal as long as it is peaceful protesting and not obstructing the construction. The Citizens can do this because they have the right to assemble, the right to freedom of speech, and the freedom of press. That means that they are allowed to protest or broadcast news coverage containing any slant or opinion they see fit to share. If any governing body stops the construction and or operation of the mosque it would violate the first amendment because the government cannot regulate religion under the first amendment.

  2. Michael Hersch

    1. Americans most resemble Puritans when we lump Islam together with its worst elements. Puritans believed that everyone, besides themselves, were not desirable and not worthy of being with the Puritans. Most Americans unfairly see Muslims as undesirable due to the extremists who killed many people on September 11th, 2001. When Puritan leaders were in fear of the teaching of non-Puritan, Roger Williams, they eventually pressured him to shut up. Roger felt uncomfortable and eventually escaped to Rhode Island where he built a Baptist church. Americans are trying to do the same thing. They don’t believe that the Muslims should build a mosque near ground zero so they are trying to pressure the leaders of the mosque to find a new location for their religious center. For example the priest in Florida was threatening to burn the Koran in attempt to get the Muslims to moves their mosque.
    2. A religious community like the Puritans can’t be allowed to exist by itself and do as it pleases because people have freedom of religion and in this country there is separation between church and state. No person in the United States can be persecuted for having unpopular religious beliefs. The Puritans had penalties for any Quaker who stepped foot in Massachusetts. These Quakers received punishments that today would be seen as cruel and unusual. Unlike the time period when the Puritans acted in their own isolated community, there would be United States Government intervention to stop the power of religious groups who violated the Constitution.
    3. Opposition to the placement of a mosque doesn’t violate the First Amendment because the opposition does have freedom of speech, also guaranteed in the first amendment. However if the government took action then it would be considered a violation of the First Amendment.


    1. When modern Americans lump Islam together with its worst elements, we resemble the puritans. In colonial times, the puritans would consider anyone who didn’t conform to their way of life as a sinner. The puritans banished those who opposed their beliefs including Anne Hutchinson and Roger Williams. The Puritans were constantly bothered by Quakers and to rid themselves of them they formed brutal punishment to keep the Quakers out. We are not that different from the Puritans if we base our view of Islam on the few radicals as they based their view on the Quakers.

    2. A religious community like the Puritans cannot be allowed to exist in America. Because of its nature of existing by its self, choosing its own members, and doing whatever it wants, this type of society could infringe on other’s liberties. In America, groups don’t exclude people based on their religious beliefs or ethnicity.

    3. The opposition to the placement of a mosque is a violation of the First Amendment if the opposition is because of the nature of the mosque. It is possible to oppose a mosque being built without it being because of hatred of Islam. For example, if a person opposes a mosque because of where it is being built rather than who will be worshipping there. It is only violation of the First Amendment if the opposition is based on opposing the religion rather than the building.

  4. John Hammond

    1. The colonial group or individual that we resemble most when we lump a religion like Islam together with its worst elements are the Puritans because they refused to except any members of society that did not share their exact religious beliefs, viewed them as undesirables (not good people), and even tortured people like Quakers because they connected all of them with their worst elements.
    2. A religious community like the Puritans cannot be allowed to exist by itself in America because when they existed by themselves, they proved intolerant to all other forms of faith. This intolerance to other faiths proves to be violent, as seen with their punishments to the Quakers, and also cruel, as seen in the banishment of people from the society when they spoke out or tried to bring change to the current religion and society.
    3. Opposition to the placement of a mosque regardless of where it is violates the First Amendment right to freedom of religion because the Muslims have a right to practice their religion where they want and when they want. They should not be disallowed this freedom simply because certain Muslims that do not reside in the USA performed a terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. The excepting of the Mosque would prove a step in the right direction for America, because it shows that we are able to look past certain extremist in a group and continue to run our country based off the constitution, not emotion.

  5. Zack Kozlow

    1. When we, as Americans, blindly clump Islam with its most radical elements, we resemble the Puritans of the 1600s. Just as the Puritans associated Quakers with creating a colony of cranks and non-conformists, we associate the Islamic people with the attacks on our country. These accusations are completely unfair, because only the most radical people are responsible for the terrorism. The Islamic religion as a whole does not condemn those acts. The Puritans behaved the same way towards the Quakers. They passed brutal laws and punishments in order to keep the Quakers out of their territory. They were worried that all of the Quakers would bring the non-conformity to their colony. The stereotypes that were given to the Quakers have a strong resemblance to those of the Islamic people.

    2. In our society, an exclusive religious community like the Puritans could not exist. Even if a group decides to go in to uncharted territory and start a community, people will want to join their “private” community. If they close the community to outside members, it could cause disputes, and fighting. To exclude people from a community based on their religious beliefs is against our constitution.

    Opposition to the placement of a mosque does not violate freedom of religion. The freedom of religion consists of the right to practice one’s religion, which is not being denied. Also, the right to the freedom of speech consists of being able to speak out on what you believe- even if some people may not like what you say. If the Islamic people were punished for trying to build a mosque, THAT would be against freedom of religion. But to simply oppose the idea is not.

  6. Leah Sherman

    1. As a whole, Americans represent the Puritans. As is mentioned in the blog entry to which I am responding, the Puritans constantly had to deal with the issue of Quakers invading their land. The Quakers were quite radical back in the 1600s, and the Puritans wanted to combat that and keep them away; they wound up doing this by adopting a new set of laws with brutal punishments for the Quakers. Today, there’s a massive controversy going on in the country over whether or not a Mosque should be constructed near Ground-Zero. Similar to the Puritans, we are trying to suppress the Islam religion because we still associate them with the terrorist attacks on our country on September 11.
    2. There really is no reason why anyone can’t go off into the wilderness and start his or her own religion, group, etc. Sure, to onlookers, it may seem absurd, but Americans are granted freedom of religion in the first amendment. The only argument I can think of against this, however, is that if they are discovered to be doing illegal activities, then they may be stifled by the government. Back in the 1600s, however, the Puritans were in uncharted territory where there were essentially no laws and no rules; they were not held back by a pre-existing society.
    3. When it comes down to it, yes, we are violating First Amendment right to Freedom of Religion by prohibiting the Muslims from building a Mosque near the site of Ground-Zero. Freedom is freedom: each and every one of us has the right to practice our religion however we please (so long as we aren’t infringing on the rights of others.) Though I believe placement of the Mosque is inappropriate, it ultimately does not hurt me or my well-being.

  7. geoffwickersham (Post author)

    1. The Americans most resemble the Puritans when we lump the Islamic people together. The Puritans found other religious beliefs that were contrary to theirs to be intolerable. The Puritans harshly punished the people who spoke out against their religion. For example when Anne Hutchinson, who was a Quaker, questioned the doctrine of predestination, the Puritans were furious and ordered her family to go Rhode Island.

    2. A religious community like the Puritans cannot exist today because America is very diverse. This is because of modern day religious tolerance in the Constitution, which allows freedom of religion in the first amendment. The Puritans often banished people from their land, such as Anne Hutchinson, and also used harsh physical punishments against people who denounced their religion. These kinds of punishments would be considered as cruel and unusual punishment today.

    3. Opposition to the placement of the mosque near ground zero completely violates the first amendment because the Islamic people have the right to build the mosque wherever they want. Many people don’t want to build a mosque near ground zero due to their feeling about 9/11, but the Islamic people can’t be denied this right because the Constitution grants it to them.

    Cody F.

  8. Meghan Marx

    1. When we clump together religions and judge them by their weak points, we resemble the Puritans and John Winthrop. The Puritans ironically sought religious freedom from the Church of England, but at the same time discriminated against Catholics and those members of the Church of England along with Jews, Quakers, etc. John Winthrop saw “God’s hand” in Anne Hutchinson’s death. She had challenged Puritan ideas, and God forbid an independent thinker sprout from the bunch! He was worried about tainting the “religious experiment” in the Massachusetts Bay Colony. He was idolizing his own religion while scrutinizing other religions. Today, with Islam, people are being stereotyped because of their religion just as they were in colonial days. The Catholic Church was doing bad things, thus all Catholics must be bad. Some Islamics did some bad things (to say the least), and now all Islamics must be bad . . .

    2. A religious community like the Puritans had could not exist in today’s America because of the separation between church and state. No one can legally be discriminated against because of their religion (or because of anything else for that matter).

    3. Absoloutley. Any group of any kind, of any religion, has a right to build just about anything, just about anywhere, as long as it is done legally and harms no others. And harms no others. That, of course, is no the question. Whether or not the mosque legally can be built is not a valid question, it is clearly answered with the first amendment, and the answer is yes. Whether or not the mosque SHOULD be built is another debate, one with no possible resolution. Everyone probably has a solid, unwavering opinion on this matter and they are probably all very different. Just because it can be built doesn’t mean it should. You might say building it would harm those whose loved ones were lost on 9/11, but, then again, no that the matter has been brought up, NOT building it may harm those in favor of it. It may feel like unfair religious discrimination. This is a moral stalemate because both sides have perfectly valid points. Legally, however, the only question left to ask is “when does construction begin?”.

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