A statement in the Foreword caught my eye.
“This is a country of religious liberty, not of religious toleration merely.” page 9The Foreword was written in 1893 by a man named Thomas M. Cooley. I think it would help us today to think about the difference between liberty and toleration.
Liberty is an important term to understand. It is not the same as freedom. Freedom has the idea that you can do anything you want at any time you want. The American concept of liberty understands that your right to do anything you want has boundaries set by the rights of others. Thus I am free to turn my music as loud as I want until it reaches into someone else’s space where they desire quiet. At that point I can either turn my music down, change locations, use my headphones or invest in some insulation. They don’t have to tolerate your liberty.
American religious liberty has been a development. Almost every one of the original thirteen colonies had an official church. The exceptions that come up in my memory are Rhode Island and Pennsylvania. There were struggles to allow the kind of denominational differences that we take for granted today. The key is that the struggle continued until the First Amendment demanded that we be free from an official state church. Even after the Bill of Rights was ratified states still had official churches but the tide was moving toward liberty.
Early in our history we had tolerance. There was an accepted state church but they tolerated others. In the toleration only the state church received tax support. In the toleration the non-conformists faced a lot of discrimination. The key is that in time we moved from tolerating what we did not like to allowing freedom of conscience without penalty.
To be continued...
Thomas M. Cooley was on the Michigan State Supreme Court after the Civil War.
Dennis Prager covers the distinction between liberty and freedom well in many forums. You can do a search for “Dennis Prager on liberty” and find many listings.
Blakely, William Addison, Ed. American State Papers and Related
Documents on Freedom in Religion, Fourth Revised Edition.
Washington, D.C.: The Religious Liberty Association, 1949.
homo unius libri