Freedom of Religion Requires a Variety of Beliefs


Happily for the states, they enjoy the utmost freedom of religion. This freedom arises from that multiplicity of sects, which pervades America, and which is the best and only security for religious liberty in any society. For where there is such a variety of sects, there cannot be a majority of any one sect to oppress and persecute the rest. (James Madison, 1788.)


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16 Responses to Freedom of Religion Requires a Variety of Beliefs

  1. Theresa says:

    I never thought of it like that. My girls once came into the house upset because the boy next door (7th Day Adventist) said something that conflicted with our Catholic beliefs. My response was, “Isn’t it great that we live in a country where people can believe different things and still be friends?” I think God loves variety in the ways people choose to honor Him.

  2. Jeannie says:

    Very interesting — like Theresa, I’d never really thought of that.

  3. Don Johnson says:

    One should recall the original cultural context in which this way written.

    There was not one religious denomination declared the state church of the original United States. However, some states did have state churches, and other states had other state churches. The way to allow these disparate states to become united was to declare that there would be no state church for the whole United States. One can go to Colonial Williamsburg and see how it was worked out at the time of the American Revolution there. The Episcopal church was the state church of Virginia and all the leaders paid for their seats to sit there, the Presbyterian church was allowed but looked down upon, and the Baptists and Quakers were run out of town as being troublemakers.

    I am glad we have come a long way on this.

    • Tim says:

      Good context, Don. They knew the dangers of having one overwhelmingly attended faith that in turn overshadowed all others.

      • Don Johnson says:

        Perhaps you missed my point. There were some states that did not have a state church and this was deliberate, like Rhode Island. But many others did, the challenge is that they did not agree on the SAME state church. Maryland thought it was obviously Roman Catholic, Virginia thought it was Episcopal, Pennsylvania was founded by Quakers. Up in New England many people’s ancestors had left the Episcopal church as Puritans. So the founders dodged the question, but did it in a brilliant way, as I see it. I see it as God’s providence in ensuring religious liberty in the US, which was a very new and radical idea at the time. So while there was general religious liberty in the US, in many states such as Virginia, there was only a small token amount of religious liberty, general religious liberty was to come later for those states.

        • Tim says:

          That’s the point I thought you were making. Some states were all, “We have the best and only church you should attend!” Others were like, “Chill, there’s room for everyone, right?”

          The chill folks prevailed.

    • Really? I didn’t know that. I know that Baptists (and Quakers) left the UK because of persecution, but I didn’t know that they were still harassed when they got there.

  4. Laura Droege says:

    I’m thankful for this, too. But I’m puzzled why certain Christians don’t understand that religious freedom means freedom for other religions, not only Christianity.

    • Tim says:

      The tunnel vision is astounding, Laura. It’s a lack of perspective and a historical ignorance (especially of the matters Don raised in his comment), and it’s almost inexcusable in our society.

      • Laura Droege says:

        I’ve often wondered why more Christians don’t know how to THINK and don’t know to think Christianly, as opposed to blindly believing either whatever the worldly culture around them believes or what the churchy subculture around them believes (or some strange combination of the two).

    • Pastor Bob says:

      You said it best with “certain Christians.”
      Some are genuinely hurt, threatened and such by other religions,
      Some are insecure,
      Some need help understanding–

      ALL need prayer!

    • As the visionary George Orwell wrote, “All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others”?

  5. Bill M says:

    When I found a new local church after leaving an authoritarian one, a colleague emailed me Eph 3:10.
    “God’s purpose in all this was to use the church to display his wisdom in its rich variety to all the unseen rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.”
    Whether the “rich variety” refers to God’s wisdom or his church, it certainly fit my circumstance. I was glad there was variety and not one all powerful church that could have ruined my life further. Once I left they had little power.

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