Virginia Statute of Religious Liberty (Great Events from History: North American Series)
Article abstract: The first state to legislate religious liberty, which influenced the First Amendment’s provision for separation of church and state.
Summary of Event
The adoption by the state of Virginia of the Statute of Religious Liberty was a pivotal episode in the long struggle for separation of church and state in the United States. The American colonies had inherited from England an organic concept of society that predominated in the Middle Ages and survived the Protestant Reformation. In England, the church and the state had been regarded ideally as parts of a greater and divinely sanctioned social order and so owed mutual support to each other. While the Puritans and other sects emigrated partly to practice their particular faiths without harassment, few were committed to genuine religious freedom. The legal toleration of all Christians in Maryland and Pennsylvania, and the complete toleration offered in Rhode Island, were exceptional in the seventeenth century, and even those colonies imposed penalties on Catholics by the time of the Revolutionary War. Whereas, in the later colonial period, toleration of dissenting sects was often a practical necessity, connections between the church and state persisted. The Church of England was established legally in the Southern colonies, and Protestant churches were supported by public funds in most of New England. Catholics and Jews remained under civil disabilities in...
(The entire section is 1204 words.)
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