My grandson Jerome, who graduates from the University of Rochester in May, has become interested in Colonial history. He sent me an Email a couple days ago with the following:
Recently I’ve found myself interested in the lives of the early New England colonists, so during some down time I was reading through some historical files, and I found that a distant ancestor of ours was notoriously at odds with the Puritan Church of the Massachusetts colony, and was fined for not attending church service. His name was John Warren, and he is your great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great (x9) grandfather. His daughter, Mary Warren was married to a John Bigelow (great x8 grandfather).
He included a link to an article with more details, and, knowing my lack of religious belief, concluded:
I thought you’d enjoy this little story showing that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree!
An atheist in my distant past roots! What a wonderful discovery! Well, maybe not an atheist. He sympathized with the Quakers, and the Puritan authorities became so suspicious that they searched his house for Quakers that he might be sheltering. Despite his disregard for the Puritans, and his leanings toward the Quakers, he never renounced his church membership, although that may have been primarily to retain his right to vote.
Here’s an account of his “crimes” against the Puritan theocracy:
In October, 1651 he was fined 20 shillings for offence against the laws concerning baptism. On April 4, 1654, he was fined, for neglect of public worship, 14 Sabbaths, each 5 shillings = 3 pounds, 10 shillings. On March 14, 1658/59, he was…warned for not attending public worship.
John obviously didn’t have much use for the Puritan religion…and back in those days, the government in the colony of Massachusetts was a Puritan theocracy. Historical accounts of the early colonial settlers often say that they came to the New World to escape from religious persecution. What isn’t mentioned very often is that they immediately established their own system of religious persecution when they settled here in North America. If you have a strong stomach, you can read about the grisly crimes that Puritans committed against Quakers here:https://www.webpages.uidaho.edu/ngier/Quakers.htm
That ended when the United States was formed with an unambiguously secular Constitution. But that hasn’t stopped religionists from chipping away at it, and inserting their religious doctrine into our laws whenever they could. Without religious influence there would be no opposition to abortion or LGBTQ rights. Nobody would think that government should be able to control what a woman did with the contents of her own body. Nobody would care what people do in the privacy of their own bedroom, as long as it was consensual. The egregiously misnamed Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 would never have passed in Congress. Religious freedom should never enable persecution based on religious beliefs.
It is instructive to look back at the far more invasive role of religiously-influenced government in our colonial past. We need to make sure that the self-righteous bluenoses don’t get back in power. At the moment, the nation is in some danger of backsliding, due to the orange-haired demagogue in the Oval Office who panders to them to get their votes. We had better pay attention or we could find ourselves living under the heel of a theocracy once again. If that happens, we nonbelievers will have to pick up where John Warren left off. Thanks, John. You showed us how to do it.