Sunday, April 18, 2010

Ever heard of this guy? (10) (

After the Boston Tea Party - a serious and well-thought-out protest against taxation without representation that current-day "tea party" folks rather demean - the British Parliament cracked down on Boston and it's state, abolishing its assembly and closing Boston harbor.

Thanks to Samuel Adams and the system he set up that facilitated quick communication between the 13 colonies, the rest of the now-maturing British settlements in the New World had a big choice to make: back Massachusetts, or let it suffer the consequences of its actions.

To skip over a whole bunch of stuff, the Continental Congress convened. It met in Philadelphia in the fall of 1774. The rest of the story is called the United States.

But, sort of a sideshow although really not, the Congress included something that absolutely dismayed the Massachusetts delegation. It agreed to hear an appeal by a Baptist minister from Massachutchetts named Isaac Backus. This Baptist would end up sparking one of the central tenets of our country.

(I have to admit that for a long time my understanding of Baptists has been parochial at best. It consisted mostly of an (1960s) understanding that "southern" Baptists appeared to be conservatives against civil rights, liked to dunk people in rivers, and didn't let their kids go to dances.)

Isaac Backus traveled to the site of the Continental Congress, demanding to be heard. His complaint: Back in Massachutchetts, he and his flock were forced to pay taxes to fund the Congregational (Puritan) Church. Was this not taxation without representation?

Rather astonishingly, given that freedom of religion was something entirely new in the world, the Congress agreed with Backus. Before long, the State of Virginia passed the Statute of Religious Freedom, forbidding the state from taxing people to support any particular religion and forbidding it from persecuting anyone for his religious beliefs. (Even, the sponsors wrote, Jews, Muslims, and even people who rejected any religion at all.)

I don't know about you, but I think old Isaac, unwittingly or not, was a cool dude.

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