Freedom: A History of US.
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Webisode 3: Liberty for All?
Introduction Segment 1 Segment 2 Segment 3 Segment 4 Segment 5 Segment 6 Segment 7 Segment 8 Segment 9

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John Winthrop
Segment 2
A New World Settlement Religious Tolerance

The tiny Plymouth Colony soon heard reports from England that were not good. Under the new king, Charles I, things were even worse for the religious dissidents—who called themselves "Puritans." They hoped to "purify" the Church of England. But the king wouldn't let them. So between 1630 and 1640, 20,000 Puritans sailed for New England See It Now - Puritans Escaping. They wanted to practice their religion in peace. They wanted to build a holy community where people would live by the rules of the Bible. They expected their Massachusetts Bay Colony to be an example for all the world. One of the colony's governors, John WinthropSee It Now - John Winthrop, explained: "We must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us."

The Puritans were seeking freedom, but they didn't understand the idea of toleration. They came to America to find religious freedom—but only for themselves. They had little tolerance or even respect for the Pequot Indians, who lived in nearby Connecticut and Rhode Island. They called them heathens. As more and more Puritan settlers moved into their land, the Pequots got angry and resisted. In 1637 war broke out, and the Puritans, helped by Mohican and Narraganset Indian allies, massacred 600 Pequots in their fort, burning many alive. William Bradford, who was there, wrote, "It was a fearful sight to see them … frying in the fire … but the victory seemed … sweet … over so proud … an enemy."

Ministers like the Reverend John CottonSee It Now - John Cotton preached that it was wrong to practice any religion other than Puritanism. Those who did would be helping the devil. They believed they followed the only true religion so everyone should be forced to worship as they did. Hear It Now - John Coton"[Tolerance is] liberty … to tell lies in the name of the Lord," said John Cotton.

But one Puritan minister named Roger WilliamsSee It Now - Roger Williams disagreed. He said, Hear It Now - Roger Williams "Forced worship stinks in God's nostrils."

Roger Williams didn't believe in forcing others to believe as he did. He thought that killing or punishing in the name of Christianity was sinful. He respected the beliefs of others, including the Native Americans. He said that church members should pay the bills for their church instead of taking the money out of everyone's general taxes. Then he started preaching that land shouldn't be forcibly taken from the Indians. He said, Hear It Now - Roger Williams "[It is] against the testimony of Christ Jesus for the civil state to impose upon the souls of the people a religion…. Jesus never called for the sword of steel to help the sword of spirit Check The Source - Roger Williams's "Plea for Religious Freedom"."

Those were strange ideas in seventeenth-century Massachusetts. Williams was arrested and banished. He fled south, bought land from the Indians, and started a colony called Providence See It Now - Roger Williams Landing. It would become the capital of Rhode Island Check The Source - Roger Williams's Arrival in Rhode Island. In Roger Williams's time it attracted many who were not wanted elsewhere, especially those who were searching for "freedom of conscience"—the freedom to believe and worship as they wished. Williams welcomed everyone, Quakers and Catholics, Jews and atheists, even when he disagreed with their religion. Centuries later, a biographer named Edmund Morgan wrote this about Williams's ideas: "We may praise him … for his defense of liberty and the separation of church and state. He deserves the tribute … but it falls short of the man. His greatness was simpler. He dared to think."

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Did You Know?
In 1763, thanks to the atmosphere of tolerance that Roger Williams fostered, Rhode Island became the home of the first permanent Jewish house of worship in America, the Touro Synagogue. You can still see it today.

Did you know that Freedom is adapted from the award-winning Oxford University Press multi-volume book series, A History of US by Joy Hakim?

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