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  • Each year the President of the United States lights a national Christmas tree,

  • hosts a Hanukkah party at the White House and issues a proclamation honoring Ramadan.

  • Only in America.

  • Indeed, America is known for religious tolerance. In fact, it is not an exaggeration to say

  • that America, where people of all faiths are free to worship (or not worship) as they please,

  • invented modern religious tolerance. This tolerance, which Americans take for granted,

  • didn't exist anywhere in the world before America invented it. How did this happen?

  • To answer that we have to look to America's origins which were overwhelmingly religious and,

  • to be precise, overwhelmingly Christian. To put it another way, America became the

  • religiously open nation that we know today because it was first a Christian nation,

  • specifically a Protestant one. Let me explain.

  • Until the beginning of the 16th Century religious life in Europe was dominated by the Catholic Church.

  • All religious power was concentrated in the Pope and the Catholic clergy.

  • They determined religious doctrine. The power structure was top down. All that changed in 1517 when

  • Martin Luther, a German priest, led a revolt that came to be known as the Protestant Reformation.

  • The theme of the Reformation was that people should be free to interpret the Bible and

  • manage their houses of worship as they saw fit -- a bottom up power structure.

  • The most zealous of England's Reformers were known as the Puritans, so called because

  • they wanted to purify the Church of England. Some of these Puritans became so disenchanted

  • they decided they had no choice but to leave England. Only in the New World of America,

  • untainted by European prejudices, could they practice their Protestant Christianity in

  • its purest form. We know these hardy souls as Pilgrims. The strength of their conviction

  • can easily be measured by the incredible risks they took in crossing the North Atlantic on

  • small wooden sailing ships, of which The Mayflower was only one.

  • True to their religious background these early settlers, and those that followed, were fiercely

  • independent. Given that the Puritans believed that people should read and interpret scripture

  • for themselves, how could it be otherwise? Not surprisingly, it didn't take long before

  • disputes broke out among the settlers regarding doctrine. In fact, the colony of Rhode Island

  • was established in 1638 as a haven for some of these dissidents.

  • Throughout the 17th century more colonists arrived, including Catholics and Jews but

  • their numbers remained small relative to the Protestant majority. All the way through American

  • Independence in 1776 and the Revolutionary War that followed Protestants remained dominant.

  • But with more settlers came more religious discord. The only thing that everyone could

  • agree on was that religion, specifically Christianityfirmly rooted, it is important to note,

  • in the Hebrew Scriptures -- was central to the new nation's life.

  • When the colonies became states and wrote their state constitutions, they were noticeably

  • Christian in their language and tone. But beyond that there was little uniformity.

  • Some states granted privileges to specific religions while others expressed religious freedom for everyone;

  • Delaware required an oath of office that professed faith in God and Jesus Christ;

  • North Carolina prohibited any atheist or one who deniedthe truth of the Protestant religion

  • to hold office; a handful of states required office holders to be Christians,

  • some others required public officials to simply state they believed in God.

  • On the other hand, five states prohibited clergy from holding office.

  • This crazy quilt, anyone can interpret scripture on their own, state-by-state, church-by-church

  • character of early American religious practice, which was both distinctly Protestant and uniquely

  • American, led to the atmosphere of tolerance that was present at the founding of the nation.

  • Indeed, it's enshrined in the First Amendment to the US Constitution:

  • Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,

  • or prohibiting the free exercise thereof

  • Given America's English and European roots, places where governments officially sanctioned

  • one religion, this was a singular advance in human freedom. So, when the President of

  • the United States lights a national Christmas tree, hosts a Hanukkah party at the White House

  • and issues a proclamation honoring Ramadan, we should thank those headstrong Puritans.

  • I'm Larry Schweikart of the University of Dayton for Prager University.

Each year the President of the United States lights a national Christmas tree,

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Religious Tolerance: Made in America

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    joey joey posted on 2021/04/08
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