Thursday, November 17, 2005

Remembering a leader in the area of religious freedom

Reason magazine on Roger Williams

Americans don’t know much about history. Polls regularly indicate that upward of 95 percent of us can’t even name the century in which we were born or say whether we fought the Nazis or the Soviets during the Battle of New Orleans.

None of which excuses our collective amnesia regarding Roger Williams, the first American explicator of religious tolerance and secular government. If ever there was a time to recover his legacy, it’s now, with Christian zealots at home pushing creation science in schools and, far more important, Islamic fundamentalists abroad swearing death to godless infidels.

It’s a national shame that Williams is remembered, if at all, as the namesake of a low-ranked law school and the founder of Providence, Rhode Island, the grim port town whose main growth industry is serving as the backdrop for gross-out comedies by the Farrelly brothers.
Read on to see how Williams was one of the first men in the colonies to argue for the property rights of Indians and to argue that civil magistrates had no business enforcing religious rules, and how Williams helped establish Rhode Island with the first fully secular charter granted by the English government.

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