A Publication of Separation of Church and State Law Ministry.
Copyright © December 18, 2017
The history of the First Amendment is a history of persecution of those who stood against state “establishment of religion.” The established churches persecuted those true born again believers and others who stood against union of church and state and establishment of religion. In general, those believers who adhered to the apostolic doctrines and stood against union of church and state and its dogmas can be referred to as historic Baptists. Their unrelenting stand resulted in the adoption of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.
The First Amendment to the United States Constitution says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” The religion clause of the First Amendment, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” legislates the Bible principles of separation of church and state and “soul liberty.” This brief article presents the history of the First Amendment in a nutshell. See Endnote for links to more detailed histories.
Christians, since the beginning of the church age, have, generally speaking, always been persecuted to one degree or another. They were persecuted because they obeyed God rather than men (man’s law) when man’s law required them to disobey God’s law. Of course, Americans have yet to suffer more than some inconveniences which, to this point cannot be called persecution; but Christians are, this very day, being severely persecuted in many countries.
Jesus Christ was crucified since He came to lay down his life for the sins of the world. After the crucifixion of Christ, the Jews persecuted the Christians. All the apostles except John, who was persecuted but not killed, were martyrs as were many other Christians. Roman Emperors, off and on, persecuted Christians.
In the early fourth century some of the pastors or bishops went to Rome, at the invitation of Emperor Constantine, and agreed to unite church and state, to make “Christianity” the official religion of the Roman Empire. Not long after that, the official church/state establishment began to viciously persecute dissenters, those labeled to be “heretics” by the establishment. For over a thousand years thereafter, established churches persecuted dissenters.
Augustine early on developed the Catholic theology that was the basis for the brutal torture and murder of at least 50 million people labeled to be “heretics” by Catholic/state establishments. The Protestants—Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, the Church of England etc.—continued the persecutions as they accepted and implemented Augustine’s church state theology.
The persecution by established churches continued in the colonies, mainly under the Puritans in New England and the Anglicans in the South. The Catholic Church had no or insignificant influence in the American colonies and the early Republic since Catholics were few and far between. Had the Puritans and Anglicans had their way there would never have been a First Amendment; church/state establishment of one most powerful church would have been enforced by man’s law in America.
Due to the circumstances of colonization, the persecution in the colonies was severe at times, but not as severe as it had been in the Old World. Forces came together in the colonies which gradually eroded the power of the establishments. Generally speaking, the establishment of one church gave way to the establishment of multiple churches.
A theological warfare went on in the colonies between the dissenters, mainly the Baptists, and the established churches. The Baptists were the primary foes of establishment, of “union of church and state” which, as always, came about through man made law. Men such as Roger Williams, Dr. John Clarke, Isaac Backus, and John Leland fought and wrote extensively against establishment and Protestant theology. Many Baptists and others labeled “heretic” by established churches were persecuted.
As a result of Baptist efforts in the colonies, from the early 1630’s to the adoption of the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights, the First Amendment was adopted. The spiritual warfare in the colonies gradually eroded the concept of the establishment of only one church. By the time the Constitution and First Amendment were adopted, only seven states still had forced “multiple establishment” (more than one established church). The other states had already moved to choice—churches could choose whether to become established under the law of the state.
The continuing efforts of Baptists after that led to Massachusetts being the last state to do away with forced establishment. Since that time, all states, though their constitutions, provide every church a choice: remain under God only or become established, that is, submit to the law of man. In 1954, the federal government passed into law 26 United States Code §§ 501(c)(3) and 508. Since passage of that law, a churches chooses either to remain non-taxable under the First Amendment or to establish under 501(c)(3) and 508 federal tax exempt law.
More thorough histories:
An Abridged History of the First Amendment. Online only.
Section IV of God Betrayed/Separation of Church and State: The Biblical Principles and the American Application. Section I, II, and III of God Betrayed and some other sections to a lesser degree, also offer insights as to the spiritual warfare in the colonies which resulted in the adoption of the First Amendment.