All posts tagged: Roger Williams

The Founding Father We’d Do Well to Find Once Again

Thomas Paine and Roger Williams are the two founding fathers whose work is most often forgotten yet remains among the most consequential today.  My belief was strengthened upon reading Craig Nelson’s excellent 2006 biography, Thomas Paine:  Enlightenment, Revolution, and the Birth of Modern Nations. Paine, born in England and truly a citizen of the Enlightenment world, wrote three of the bestsellers of the eighteenth century, topped only by the Bible.  His Common Sense has long been recognized as a key work in changing the hearts and minds of the people of the United Colonies into citizens of what Paine was the first to characterize as the United States.  Similarly, his Rights of Man helped shape the French Revolution and — although it would take more than a century — inspire constitutional reform in Great Britain and foreshadow Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. The Age of Reason, a forceful call against organized religion, finds Paine sticking to his Enlightenment and deist values even at the expense of his public reputation. Paine’s mind was clearly a force of …

Religious Liberty and the Founding Myths

Growing up Baptist, I was schooled by my father of the dangers of having the government involved in religious life.  A New Deal Democrat and a staunch supporter of the separation of church and state, Daddy was a proud “Roger Williams” Baptist. So when Andrew attended Brown University in Providence, Candice and I made sure to stop at the Roger Williams National Memorial – administered by the National Park Service – where I picked up a copy of John Barry’s Roger Williams and The Creation of the American Soul and sent it to my father. Last year I began hearing Kevin Kruse, the Princeton historian and author of One Nation Under God:  How Corporate America Invented Christian America interviewed on NPR and other outlets. Intrigued, I bought that book for my father as well, thinking it would strike a chord. We talked about both works before Daddy passed away, and I wrote a piece on this blog last year about how old places can help us understand the battles for religious freedom.  When I brought both …

Religious Freedom 101: A Lesson from Old Places

We are hearing a great deal these days about religious freedom. Much of it comes from individuals who appear – from their comments – to know little of our country’s history.  For the past three days, I’ve been immersed in a state where all Americans would be well advised to come for a class on Religious Freedom 101. One of the truly misunderstood stories in American history is that of Rhode Island and the establishment of religious freedom. My father – that lonely breed of Southern Christian liberal – has spent the past decade or more writing letters to the editor that remind his fellow church-goers of the importance of the separation of church and state. For my part, I’ve been in Providence and Newport this week, and took the time to visit two of the landmarks of the nation’s move to ensure that all had religious freedom, including the right not to worship. Friday, I was in Newport for a series of meetings that began at Touro Synagogue, a National Historic Landmark and an …