This is how William J. Federer begins chapter 1 of his book “Back Fired: A nation founded for religious tolerance no longer tolerates the religion of its founders”:
America is known around the world for freedom. People have come from virtually every nation, culture, racial background, economic class, and religion.
They know that in America they will have the freedom to pursue opportunities to better their lives. They come because of the deep desire in the human heart to be accepted, to be free, to be tolerated.
There are many great people of all faiths in America, as well as kind, considerate individuals who are atheists or agnostics. This book is not intended to depict any group in a less favorable light, but to discover the true origins of tolerance so it can be preserved for everyone.
So what is tolerance? Where did it originate and how has it evolved? What has tolerance transformed into today?
To gain a proper perspective, one must understand how its journey began. Today’s Webster’s Dictionary defines “tolerance” as: “to put up with, bear, forbear,” but Noah Webster’s original 1828 Dictionary of the English Language, defined “tolerance” as:
Allowance of religious opinions and modes of worship in a state, when contrary to or different from those of the established church or belief….The Protestant religion is tolerated in France, and the Roman Catholic in Great Britain.
Why was this definition so important?
Those who have been taught American history properly already know the answer. Unfortunately, too few people today have been taught American history.
Centuries ago in Europe you had to share the religion of the king or you were going to be persecuted. Federer explains:
Various refugees migrated to America where the concept of tolerance evolved at different rates in different regions, proportional to the arrival of immigrants of any particular faith.
As the decades passed in the Colonies, state established churches led to the same kind of persecution here. Thanks to the work of men like Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom was drafted in the 1770s and eventually enacted a year before the Constitutional Convention met in 1787. Its passage influenced the drafting of the First Amendment which was enacted by the first U.S. Congress in 1791.
Today people are misled to believe that the First Amendment was passed to protect the state from the church. The real purpose was to protect the church from the state.
Up next: More about the book “Back Fired.”
(First published May 2012)