On Religious Liberty: Selections from the Works of Roger Williams

On Religious Liberty: Selections from the Works of Roger Williams

On Religious Liberty: Selections from the Works of Roger Williams

On Religious Liberty: Selections from the Works of Roger Williams

Synopsis

Banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony for his refusal to conform to Puritan religious and social standards, Roger Williams established a haven in Rhode Island for those persecuted in the name of the religious establishment. He conducted a lifelong debate over religious freedom with distinguished figures of the seventeenth century, including Puritan minister John Cotton, Massachusetts governor John Endicott, and the English Parliament.

James Calvin Davis gathers together important selections from Williams's public and private writings on religious liberty, illustrating how this renegade Puritan radically reinterpreted Christian moral theology and the events of his day in a powerful argument for freedom of conscience and the separation of church and state. For Williams, the enforcement of religious uniformity violated the basic values of Calvinist Christianity and presumed upon God's authority to speak to the individual conscience. He argued that state coercion was rarely effective, often causing more harm to the church and strife to the social order than did religious pluralism.

This is the first collection of Williams's writings in forty years reaching beyond his major work, The Bloody Tenent, to include other selections from his public and private writings. This carefully annotated book introduces Williams to a new generation of readers.

Excerpt

Roger Williams was America's earliest pioneer for religious liberty, but although he retains his place in cultural lore as the founder of Rhode Island and a curious voice in the Puritan wilderness, he is largely overshadowed in contemporary discussions of religious freedom by the legacy of enlightened patriots from the eighteenth century. One hundred fifty years before one of those patriots, Thomas Jefferson, penned a similar phrase, Williams was advocating a "wall of separation between the Garden of the church and the wilderness of the world." Generations ahead of James Madison, Williams commended freedom of conscience as being in the best interests of both religion and state, protecting not only the integrity of belief but civil peace as well. But what makes Williams essential to the American tradition of religious liberty is not just that he was the first to argue for such liberty, but that in many ways his vision of religious liberty was superior to the one we have inherited from the Enlightenment. in contrast to John Locke, Williams argued not just for toleration but for liberty; he recognized that religious freedom must be understood as a fundamental human right and not legislative discretion. Williams also extended the protection of conscience farther than Locke could imagine, applying it to Catholics, Jews, Muslims, and even atheists. and unlike Jefferson, Williams understood religious expression to amount to more than opinions, which compelled Williams to advocate for a sphere of protection around religious practices while also recognizing that . . .

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