Religion in the Thirteen Colonies

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Was America founded on Christianity or religious freedom?

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The American colonies settled by the British were overwhelmingly founded on the premise that they would be Christian territories. The United States, however, was founded with the idea of protecting religious freedom.

As we know, colonies such as Plymouth and the Massachusetts Bay Colony were founded as distinctly Puritan religious havens for groups of English Dissenters who did not want to be part of the Church of England. They did not practice religious freedom. A colony such as Virginia was founded on the premise that the Church of England (Christianity) would be the state religion. Throughout the British colonies, on the whole, Protestantism was the assumed religion, though many of the colonies allowed degrees of religious freedom and easily tolerated Roman Catholics and Jews.

Pennsylvania, in contrast to the Massachusetts Bay Colony, was founded by Quaker William Penn with the idea that it would grant religious freedom to persecuted groups from all over, not simply Quakers.

When the colonies broke away from Great Britain and formed the United States, they could have, as was done in Britain, mandated a state religion, but they chose not to do this and instead enshrined the idea of the separation of church and state. While the Constitution does not use the phrase "separation of church and state," the Second Amendment to the Constitution clearly has that intent. From the start, the United States decided it would not persecute people who did not follow a certain faith.

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Was America founded on Christian principles?

This question is more complex than it may at first appear, and historians have mixed opinions as to whether the answer is "yes" or "no."

On the one hand, most of the people who came to American to establish the Thirteen colonies of the original United States came from England, which had a monarchy whose king or queen was head of a state Christian church. Almost all of the original colonists identified as Christians and had Christian backgrounds. Early state governments encouraged Christianity, and most of the original universities in the United States were Christian institutions. There is a clear reference to God in the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

However, the United States Constitution, the document that is the foundation of the government, advocates a separation of church and state. There is no stipulation for a government-sponsored church or a requirement that a person be a Christian to hold federal office. Additionally, the First Amendment allows for free expression of religion and does not restrict that religion to Christianity. It's also worth noting that if we consider the freedom advocated by the Bill of Rights to be based on Christian principles, when the country was founded that freedom applied only to adult white males and not to women, black people, Native Americans, and other minorities.

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