Starting in the early 1600’s English settlers began migrating to the Americas in search for liberty and the right to govern themselves in what they deemed a Christian manner. Thomas Morton, was one of the first to write about the Indians of New England. He condemned their religious beliefs claiming it was similar to devil like worship. (VOF,4) The Native Americans were seen to be living a much happier life even without religion, law and a king. This daunted Christian and they did not understand how this could be. It’s written that they claim their prosperity was full of evil and they would lead a happier life once bought to Christianity.(VOF,6) I feel this is the last America sees of true religious freedom. In reality, religious liberty existed in very few parts of the Atlantic world in during this time period. Most nations outlawed religious groups that rulers deems dangerous or disruptive. Among all the colonies, one that demonstrated religious freedom in a higher sense would be Maryland.
Cecilius Calvert was a Catholic who wished to demonstrate that Protestants and Catholics could live in peace, something that was not seen in Europe. In 1649 Maryland established an Act Concerning Religion, which introduced religious tolerance, saying that anyone who troubled a Christian due to their religion would be punished.(VOF,27) I feel this allowed others to safely demonstrate “religious freedom”, but this is just one state among the colonies. During this time it was rare to have this type of true freedom. Like many settlers, the puritans came to American in search of liberty, and to govern themselves in what they deemed a Christian manner.(VOF,29) This is where Religious freedom loses the sense of freedom, because the puritans created their own definition of the word freedom. John Winthrop explains that freedom to them meant obedience to God’s laws and the law of rulers such as himself.(VOF,29-30) Basically you can see that they are imposing their moral standards on society as a whole, denying anyone other than themselves of true religious freedom.
Unlike what Maryland was trying to implement, this colony believed in follow their religion, or be punished, much like a wide array of colonies. A prime example of this would be the trial of Anne Hutchison in 1637. Hutchison was accused of expressing opinions that did not match up to those in authority.(VOF,33) The trial gives examples of how if you stray against what the government deems Gods word, then you would be punished. Hutchison argues that she is reciting what she believes God told her is his word, and Governor John Winthrop, one of her accusers, argues that this is another religion and its punishable. (VOF,35-39) Because Hutchison followed her own beliefs she is banished from their society, clearly being stripped of her natural right of religious freedom.
Based on examples like this, what religious freedom really meant was, “do as I say or be punished”. You can see this start to shift as time goes on, you can see people start to realize the damage this is putting on society and settlers, such as Roger Williams, begin to branch out and start new movement. Williams founded Providence, Rhode Island, and then came to publish a letter claiming that no one should be forced to follow any particular religious belief, but they should still obey the government in charge of civil matters. (VOF,40) This is what religious freedom should have been from the beginning.