The idea that the United States has always been a bastion of religious freedom is reassuring—and utterly at odds with the historical record
By Kenneth C. Davis
The problem is that this tidy narrative is an American myth. The real story of religion in America’s past is an often awkward, frequently embarrassing and occasionally bloody tale that most civics books and high-school texts either paper over or shunt to the side. And much of the recent conversation about America’s ideal of religious freedom has paid lip service to this comforting tableau.
From the earliest arrival of Europeans on America’s shores, religion has often been a cudgel, used to discriminate, suppress and even kill the foreign, the “heretic” and the “unbeliever”—including the “heathen” natives already here. Moreover, while it is true that the vast majority of early-generation Americans were Christian, the pitched battles between various Protestant sects and, more explosively, between Protestants and Catholics, present an unavoidable contradiction to the widely held notion that America is a “Christian nation.”
Funny how Americans buy into these historical myths so readily. Are other countries this self-deluded, or is it just us?
For more on the subject, see Time's "Brief History of Intolerance," Villaraigosa's Pro-California Propaganda, and Religious Freedom for Everyone, Except Indians.
Below: "Philadelphia's Bible Riots of 1844 reflected a strain of anti-Catholic bias and hostility that coursed through 19th-century America."