Religious Freedom?

I am just looking for comments on the following taken from the “Rights of the Colonists” written by Samuel Adams and presented November 20, 1772.

I. Natural Rights of the Colonists as Men.

Among the natural rights of the Colonists are these: First, a right to life; Secondly, to liberty; Thirdly, to property; together with the right to support and defend them in the best manner they can. These are evident branches of, rather than deductions from, the duty of self-preservation, commonly called the first law of nature.
As neither reason requires nor religion permits the contrary, every man living in or out of a state of civil society has a right peaceably and quietly to worship God according to the dictates of his conscience.
“Just and true liberty, equal and impartial liberty,” in matters spiritual and temporal, is a thing that all men are clearly entitled to by the eternal and immutable laws of God and nature, as well as by the law of nations and all well-grounded municipal laws, which must have their foundation in the former.
In regard to religion, mutual toleration in the different professions thereof is what all good and candid minds in all ages have ever practised, and, both by precept and example, inculcated on mankind. And it is now generally agreed among Christians that this spirit of toleration, in the fullest extent consistent with the being of civil society, is the chief characteristical mark of the Church. Insomuch that Mr. Locke has asserted and proved, beyond the possibility of contradiction on any solid ground, that such toleration ought to be extended to all whose doctrines are not subversive of society. The only sects which he thinks ought to be, and which by all wise laws are excluded from such toleration, are those who teach doctrines subversive of the civil government under which they live. The Roman Catholics or Papists are excluded by reason of such doctrines as these, that princes excommunicated may be deposed, and those that they call heretics may be destroyed without mercy; besides their recognizing the Pope in so absolute a manner, in subversion of government, by introducing, as far as possible into the states under whose protection they enjoy life, liberty, and property, that solecism in politics, imperium in imperio, leading directly to the worst anarchy and confusion, civil discord, war, and bloodshed…

II. Natural rights of Colonists as Christians

…These may be best understood by reading and carefully studying the institutes of the great Law Giver and Head of the Christian Church, which are to be found clearly written and promulgated in the New Testament.
By the act of the British Parliament, commonly called the Toleration Act, every subject in England, except Papists, &c., was restored to, and re-established in, his natural right to worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience. And, by the charter of this Province, it is granted, ordained, and established (that is, declared as an original right) that there shall be liberty of conscience allowed in the worship of God to all Christians, except Papists, inhabiting, or which shall inhabit or be resident within, such Province or Territory. Magna Charta itself is in substance but a constrained declaration or proclamation and promulgation in the name of the King, Lords, and Commons, of the sense the latter had of their original, inherent, indefeasible natural rights, as also those of free citizens equally perdurable with the other. That great author, that great jurist, and even that court writer, Mr. Justice Blackstone, holds that this recognition was justly obtained of King John, sword in hand. And peradventure it must be one day, sword in hand, again rescued and preserved from total destruction and oblivion.

The full document can be found at the following site
Read more:

It would seem Mr. Adams is not very fond of tolerating “Papists.” I am not sure if this means those that were trying to convert the English government back to Roman Catholicism or Catholics in general.

In any case, the document is full of enough vague comments that it can justify rejection of any religion society deems unworthy. Who gets to decide the ones “whose doctrines are not subversive to society” or “who teach doctrines subversive to the civil government under which they live”? It would seem that the ancient prophets of Israel would probably fit the bill of those who would not be tolerated.

It was Catholics in general and there are several documents with similar statements in them, including documents sent to King George and presented to the continental congress. Numerous of our “founding fathers” also participated in burning convents, catholic schools, etc… They brought the old world prejudice of the time to the new world with them.

I am really curious how many people already were aware of this and what are your thoughts. It seems that the United States was founded on Religious Liberty for everyone except Catholics. Somehow it appears things may not have changed a lot.

Thomas Jefferson’s Bible had certain pages and excerpts cut out that dealt with supernatural matters, including the divinity of Jesus Christ.

Numerous founding fathers were also Freemasons, a practice, I believe was still forbidden by the Church then, as it is now. Not to mention the framework they created was incredibly weak and malleable. If you are looking for true freedom as a Catholic, the only answer is a Theocracy.

I think religious freedom has to be properly understood in its historical context. Religious freedom in early America meant freedom to practice Protestant Christianity. That explains this document as well as state constitutions which had religious tests requiring you to be a Protestant to serve in government. This also narrows the true and historical meaning of the First Amendment.

It should be noted that religious freedom does not even today mean the freedom to practice any religious belief. If you claimed your religion does not prohibit theft and murder you would be prohibited from practicing that. So even today some fundamental religious doctrines are imposed upon people. We have our religious dogma in modern America.

The Roman Catholics or Papists are excluded by reason of such doctrines as these…, and those that they call heretics may be destroyed without mercy;

This is a difficulty aspect of church history. It is not unique to the Catholic Church. Christians caused the execution of heretical Christians. The executions might have been carried out by the state but the church knew that such a condemnation would lead to execution. It has been argued in the past that a heretic is far more dangerous than a criminal because the heretic imperils souls. I actually agree with that. But given the history of Christians causing the execution of other Christians I think it understandable men’s concerns about the divide of Protestant and Catholic in those days.

:frowning: But, in many ways, nothing has changed or improved.

Is this in reference to the HHS mandate?
Catholics have had in my lifetime the same religious freedom that protestants do. We’ve had a Catholic president, currently a “Catholic” VP, and I think it is now 4 or 5 Catholic Supreme Court justices.

Regarding the HHS mandate, it is having equally negative effects on non-Catholic religious liberty, and the current administration went out of its way to target the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod in the Tabor Hosanna case.


I forget which luminary explained the first amendment as:" the right of religious persecution is reserved to the States."

Someone will correct me if I’m wrong, but that was corrected by, I think, the 14th Amendment.


For John Locke, it was actually atheists that are not worthy of being tolerated. He writes:

“Lastly, those are not at all to be tolerated who deny the being of a God. Promises, covenants, and oaths, which are the bonds of human society, can have no hold upon an atheist. The taking away of God, though but even in thought, dissolves all; besides also, those that by their atheism undermine and destroy all religion, can have no pretence of religion whereupon to challenge the privilege of a toleration.”

As for the Founding Fathers, the only figure I’m aware of who would have defended freedom of religion–with no exceptions–was Thomas Jefferson. He had no animus against Catholics nor against non-believers. In fact, he was something of a non-believer himself :slight_smile:

From the “Virginia Act for Establishing Religious Freedom” (Thomas Jefferson, 1786):

Be it therefore enacted by the General Assembly, That no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burdened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in nowise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.

That’ll be the last time I drink his beer. :smiley:

Actually, this has to do with more than the HHS Mandate. Yes, that affects non-Catholics as well as Catholics. It affects anyone who is Pro-Life and that is not faith specific. Yes, we have had a Catholic President, we have someone who calls himself Catholic as a VP, and we have 5 Supreme Court Justices who are Catholic, 3 in name only. Being Catholic is more than going to Mass on weekends and Holy Days. It is a way of life, you whole life, everyday and in everything you do and say. Being Catholic isn’t easy, Christ never said it would be, but it is well worth it in the long run. I am more than a little annoyed at the people who claim to be Catholic when it benefits them and then disregard their faith and culture when it becomes inconvenient. Either you are or you aren’t, there is nothing in between.

What this is about is how we got to this point when this country started out with the best of intentions. Far too many individuals and not enough community; too many people asking “How can I get the most benefits and/or money while putting forth the least amount of effort” and not enough people asking “What can I do to make my community better and benefit everyone, especially those without a voice.” Too much doing what is easy and not enough of doing what is right. Catholic Teaching tells us that each individual gets its importance from the community, if the entire community is doing well, then each individuals will do well.

What I was curious about was if the original statement quoted at the beginning of this thread was new to anyone else besides me. I was totally unaware that one of the many reasons for the War for Independence was because of the Quebec Act which allowed Catholics all the same rights as Protestants in Canada. I was unaware, until a few months ago, that Catholics were not allowed to hold office in Colonial America. It wasn’t until the early 1800’s that a Catholic in the United States could hold office but only if he acted and was perceived to think like the rest of the White Anglo-Saxon Protestants. In many of the first thirteen colonies, Catholics were not welcome to settle and in Massachusetts priests were threatened with execution if they entered the colony. Besides Papists, Jews and Indians were also not welcome in most of the original settlements. This and much more was all new to me because, of course, the history taught in our schools is from stories entered as facts from 1600 to 1800 England. It was when I started researching other topics that I found documents on non-Catholic, historical sites that opened my eyes. They also make it easier to understand how we got to the point we are. I don’t have to like it but it does make it easier to understand. Until everyone begins to understand that this is not a county of just individuals, it is one big community. Until we see and understand where we have gone wrong we will not see the country our founding fathers hoped for. Things started off on the wrong foot but it isn’t too late to correct our path.

I’m not an expert in history, but I’ll add a few points. To be sure Colonial America did not have the idea of religious freedom we have today. The Church of England was the established church. Baptists, who obviously were protestants, were sometimes jailed for preaching without a license. Constitutions limited office to Protestants. Especially in later years there was also tolerance and diversity, particularly in the South. I mention this because the South is generally looked down upon by the rest of the nation particularly for being intolerant. The Catholic Church had a presence in the early South. This was due in large part to Louisiana and Florida having French and Spanish populations. Georgetown, the first Catholic college, was founded in DC which at that time was fully part of the South. The president of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis, was educated at a Catholic school in Kentucky. The Catholic North came about later in history as waves of Catholic immigrants came to the US. But in the early days the South was more Catholic. I think this is interesting because even today in the fight against the government’s aggression against life and faith Catholics will find many southern allies. History is often simplified for various reasons and this simplification can often lead to people having erroneous perceptions of the past and even present.

I think the best proof of religious toleration in the US is simply the large number of sects, new religions, and cults that our society has managed to produce. Remember, toleration doesn’t mean I think your ideas are worth holding.

To the poster noting Catholic influences in the Southern US, just look at the swath of cities from San Diego to Saint Augustine named after saints. St. Paul, MN being a notable exception.

I believe you have to read Sam Adams musings with an eye on the time in which they were written.

Many colonists brought anti-Catholic feelings and beliefs with them from Europe. This was especially true in New England, where the Pilgrims, who were Puritans for the most part, were very much anti-Catholic.

In reality, much of Great Britain was anti-Catholic at the time. The Church of England held sway in that land, Presbyterians were quite prevalent in Scotland, and Catholics were found in Ireland, which led to centuries of unrest and slaughter in the name of the various sects claiming to be the one true way.

Since Adams was from New England, it doesn’t surprise me he felt this way.

An interesting side note was that, in the New England colonies, tax money supported the churches, which were usually Episcopal or Congregational.

This changed after the revolution and there was a schism between Congregational churches and Unitarian churches, but that is fodder for another thread.

Among the colonies, Maryland was an exception to the rule. It was notoriously pro-Catholic, if my history lessons are still accurate in my mind.

Along with parts of the South, the Southwest United States was predominantly Catholic, the Spanish invaders having forced that belief system on the native people they found living there.

While we are at it, the first Christian sect most prevalent in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska was Russian Orthodox, since they were there first.

Our Founding Fathers held a variety of beliefs. I agree that Thomas Jefferson was probably the most strident proponent of religious tolerance. Depending on who you talk to, he was either a Deist with Unitarian leanings or a Unitarian with Deist leanings. I have a copy of Jefferson’s Bible, which he edited to remove the supernatural mumbo jumbo. It is much thinning than a conventional Bible, but a great read.

I think JHow has a point as well. Today, we are seeing an influx of other faith systmes into the U.S. Muslims are becoming more visible, as are Buddhists, Sikhs, Wiccans etc.

The fact we all can live and work together is a testament to tolerance. I also agree, just because i believe you should have the right to believe as you wish doesn’t mean I think your beliefs are something I can or will believe in.



Fortunately for those of us who might not live up to your exacting standards for being Catholic, the fact that we annoy you matters not. Get over yourself.

The first statement, which I abridged for brevity, sounds, at first, very much like a Unitarian Universalist statement. The difference would be we, as a UU community, believe in supporting the individual along their path, not dictating how to walk that path.

Regarding what you didn’t know about the early laws in our nation, or in the colonies, don’t fault yourself too much. History is rarely taught these days and any real indepth study takes place either at university or on one’s own.

That said, you are correct. The only people who were allowed to vote in the early days of this nation were white, male, protestants who owned property.

Churches in New England were supported using tax money, too. But, while the church building, etc., were tax supported, women could not belong to the church, only to church societies. Only men could be elected to membership.

Religious intolerance was nothing new. Europe was rife with it.

One of the most outspoken Unitarian proponents, Michael Servetus, ran afoul of John Calvin.

Calvin didn’t approve of Servetus’ unitarian views and, when he got the opportunity, he burned Servetus at the stake.

Catholics were not immune to intolerance, either. The Spanish Inquisition is ample evidence of that.

To work and live as a community, which you say is the most amenable way to promote a healthy society, I would suggest that we must learn more tolerance of others. You needn’t like my beliefs, or agree with them, but you must allow me the right to hold them.

Likewise, I would do the same for you.



Amen Betty.

Who gets to chose and why, who is a Catholic, and who is a “Catholic” and who is a “catholic in name only”?

As far as I know no one political party or one political philosophy has the right to decide for all, does it?

It is a mistake to think the American Colonies were founded on religious liberty. All the colonies had an official denomination, except for Rhode Island. RI had religious freedom as a founding principle. The Puritans came to America so they could worship how they wanted, if you lived in Plymouth Colony you had to attend the Puritan church on Sunday. Likewise Maryland founded by Catholics and Pennsylvania by Quakers. There was intolerance between the colonies. For more you can read the “Politically Incorrect History of the United States” by Woods (can’t remember his first name, maybe Thomas).

The dual calling of faith and citizenship lies at the heart of what it means to be a Catholic in the United States. We stand on the shoulders of many Catholics who have gone before
us, who have helped the United States of America become a better country because of their faith in a loving God….

#3 Do not vote for candidates just because they declare themselves Catholic. Unfortunately, many self-described Catholic candidates reject basic Catholic teaching.*
One can tell if a person is more than “Catholic in name only” by how a person votes on the following Non-Negotiables:
Embryonic Stem Cell Research
Human Cloning
Homosexual “Marriage

No one has to decide anything about another person’s status in the Catholic Church and if they are faithful to Catholic Teachings or not, they are deciding for themselves and making it known loud and clear. Just look at the voting record of persons like Nancy Pelosi, Tom Harkin, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Justice John Roberts, John Kerry, Kathleen Sebelius, and, of course, we can’t forget Joseph Biden. They have made their beliefs and disbeliefs well known and are not compatible with the Church.

*“What Does the Church Say About Catholic Social
Teaching in the Public Square?” / USCCB

A consistent ethic of life should guide all Catholic engagement in political life. This Catholic ethic neither treats all issues as morally equivalent nor reduces Catholic teaching to one or two issues. It anchors the Catholic commitment to defend human life and other human rights, from conception until natural death, in the fundamental obligation to respect the dignity of every human being as a child of God. Catholic voters should use Catholic teaching to examine candidates’ positions on issues and should consider candidates’ integrity, philosophy, and performance. It is important for all citizens “to see beyond party politics, to analyze campaign rhetoric critically, and to choose their political leaders according to principle, not party affiliation or mere self-interest” (USCCB, Living the Gospel of Life, no. 33). ”*
If you think my standards are high, I can assure you that God’s are higher. I just happen to hold my faith dear and know I would be no where without it. Being Catholic, or even any other belief system, should be a way of life or else why do you believe. Christ didn’t just give us some of himself, he gave it all. Aren’t you willing to do the same? I am.

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