Why Were the First 13 Colonies Established on this Continent?

Let’s give ourselves a little history lesson. Why were the first 13 colonies established on this continent?

It has long been understood that the prime motive for the founding of the New England colonies was religious freedom. Certainly what those early colonists wanted was the freedom to worship God as they deemed proper, but they did not extend that freedom to everyone. Those who expressed a different approach to religious worship were not welcome. Puritans especially were intolerant toward those who held views other than their own.

Much of the religious disaffection that found its way across the Atlantic Ocean stemmed from disagreements within the Anglican Church, as the Church of England was called. Those who sought to reform Anglican religious practices—to “purify” the church—became known as Puritans. They argued that the Church of England was following religious practices that too closely resembled Catholicism both in structure and ceremony. The Anglican clergy was organized along episcopalian lines, with a hierarchy of bishops and archbishops. Puritans called for a congregationalist structure in which each individual church would be largely self‐governing.

The narrow views of the Puritan leaders regarding religious conformity provoked opposition. Roger Williams argued for the separation of church and state, and the right of privacy in religious belief, and against compulsory church service. Banished from Massachusetts Bay in 1635, he went south to Narragansett Bay and founded the Providence settlement. In 1644, Williams received royal permission to start the colony of Rhode Island, a haven for other religious dissenters.

It is for this reason that the first Amendment says “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” By endorsing one religion or another, a government would be imposing its own tyranny on its citizens. Our government, therefore, does not try to tell you what to believe, but it also cannot endorse Christianity over any other religion, or over the right to not believe in any god at all. Choosing to remain neutral in matters of religion assures that every citizen is given equal opportunity to choose his own beliefs. Our government, then, cannot base its laws on ANY religion or other set of moral beliefs. We are a republic which derives our power from the consent of the citizens, not from any imposed belief system.

I certainly do not want to live in a country where any religious belief system is shown preference over another, for that would be a tyranny I refuse to suffer.

Judie Ingram McMath


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