2015-08-13 / Opinion

A Conversation on Religious Freedom

To the Editor:

Writing a chapter for the newly released book "Washington’s Rebuke to Bigotry" has been a highlight in my writing career. Participating with so many brilliant writers, such as professor Gordon Wood, John Barry, and professor Barbara Nussbaum to name a few, was a great honor. Most importantly, I was able to ensure that Colonial Newport’s contributions to church/state separation and religious freedoms were fully recognized.

In particular, the salient works of Newport founder John Clarke M.D., are all too often subsumed to poorly taught history. While many fostered the notion of church/state separation, the ultimate transaction that made it law was solely the work of Clarke. Consider, for the first time in all of history, Clarke convinced a sovereign (Charles II of England) to forgo half of his power by granting church/state separation to a political entity, the diminutive colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. This legislation planted the seeds not only for America’s Bill of Rights, but also for church/state separation that has now become the understood ideal throughout most of Western Civilization.

I would be remiss not to mention the powerful support of Ambassador John J. Loeb Jr., founder of the George Washington Institute for Religious Freedom. His foresight and quiet backing for this book are indeed singularly benevolent and moral. The heavy lifting, that of bringing these many chapters into a coherent, meaningful book, was accomplished by the educational nonprofit, Facing History and Ourselves. Their proficient editing pulled the many chapters into a powerful and timely book.

As America founders with political and social unrest, could there be a better time to release this book? I know that it is the hope of Ambassador Loeb, the editors, and authors that the statement inherent to this book will remind all who read it of the powerful yet fragile idea of American freedom.

More information can be found at facinghistory.org/nobigotry/ washingtons-rebuke.

James Wermuth

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