What does freedom of religion really mean in the 21st Century? In the past, countries were established and wars were fought so that freedom of faith could be guaranteed, but such protection is not an issue today. Or, is it? Let us reflect on the past, particularly in this country, the United States of America.
In the 1600s, after fleeing to the New World from religious persecution in England, the Separatists such as Roger Williams came to the realization that the Established Church of the day was just as false as any other world religion. He saw that it had become contaminated by the world. He then decided that all religions should be treated equally, and that there should be no “favored religion” in any government, thereby excluding others. Roger Williams went on to establish Rhode Island as a colony that would allow all religious beliefs and practices. At that time, the other colonies were very intolerant of any religious opinion other than the state-established one. Rhode Island was viewed as a zoo for all religious nuts that ended up in the New World.
Roger Williams was a man who held strong personal conviction about the one “true religion” that should motivate men’s lives. True religion is described in James 1:27 as “caring for widows and orphans in their distress and remaining unstained and uncontaminated by the world.” He also knew that there was no valid witness of such religion existing in his time. He recognized that the church had started out as a sheepfold, but had sadly turned into a zoo.
Therefore he had the wisdom to begin a government in his colony which accepted all religions — no matter “which side of the head one parted his hair” (or even if parted down the middle and tied back in a pony tail, or even the growing of the beard, for some strange reason!). His Rhode Island government later became a forerunner of the pattern for the United States government when it was later established. A man would be allowed to be free to believe and to worship according to his conscience.
Sadly enough, those first freedoms are eroding quickly in these modern times. They did not have buses in the old days to bus the children great distances into the cities to learn the wisdom of the world, so parents were still free to pass on the knowledge and beliefs that they felt best for their own child. They had no such idea as public school or college until the Organized Religion in America with its strong governmental influence brought in the concept of compulsory education regulated by the government. Eventually, state taxes were forced upon every citizen along with mandatory requirements of what would be taught. Today, public schools are a hotbed for every kind of evil peer pressure that undoes the good morals and decent path that parents try to teach their children. Instead, state-controlled education leaves the citizen no options as to what the state uniformly and unalterably teaches each parent’s child, as if they and we were all the same. Allowing this substantial interference in the personal liberties of parents — the very choices of what goes into their children by example and by indoctrination — is just one example of the bad fruit of allowing religion to influence secular government.
Roger Williams had prophetic insight. It has not been heeded. Is there room for the insights of the Roger Williamses of today? Who will give ear to them? Will the state-enforced standards of religious correctness become the rule of the day?
This man Roger Williams, who saw no valid religious expression that reflected the primitive pattern for which the separatists sought, gave up the struggle and was content to wait for those who would be born later on down the road in this nation he helped to establish. Will we allow them room?