Anniversary of an Awful Law – 1647
“You guys can't be here,” the Massachusetts lawmakers said to Jesuit (Catholic) priests on this date in 1647. “So leave. And if you come back, we're going to kill you!”
Of course, the new Massachusetts law didn't say those exact words (and also featured ye olde fashioned spellings), but that was the gist of the law. We in the United States have enjoyed freedom of religion for so long that we sometimes forget why our nation's founders wrote the First Amendment in the first place. But before our U.S. Constitution, the norm was for each government to dictate the religion of that nation. If you weren't the “right” religion, you were considered a sinner, religiously speaking, but you were often considered a second-class citizen, too. Or you were killed or ejected, beat up or rejected.
So today is a very good day to be thankful for the separation of church and state. The U.S. Constitution states that the government cannot establish a national religion, cannot institute a religious test before granting citizenship or voting rights, and cannot show preference for one religion over another.
And that's a very, very good thing. Just ask those priests!
Here is a rather advanced treatment or “lesson” on freedom of religion, meant for high school age or older. And here is a quiz on the same subject, again for advanced or older students.
Teaching Tolerance has some good discussion questions.
Also on this date: