Why Protestants Believe in Religious Liberty

Why Protestants Believe in Religious Liberty

Imagine this happening in America, if you can: A family decides they want to change churches. Only one church exists in the town where they live. So, they say: "Since we no longer believe in this church, we will worship God at home and invite our friends who believe the same way to join us." The first time they hold a service at their home, police break through the front door, drag them to jail without trial, and hold them until they're sentenced to prison.

What a wild, impossible idea! you might say.

Only it wasn't wild and impossible several hundred years ago. That's the way it was done. Individuals who didn't attend the church of the majority or of the king of the area were taken to jail. As a matter of fact, literally thousands of persons were murdered because they didn't conform to rigid religious laws or say they would attend church against their beliefs.

Martin Luther, Zwingli, Huss, Tyndale, Cranmer—these are just a few of the leaders of the great Protestant Reformation. Five hundred years ago practically all Christians belonged to the Roman Catholic Church. Then men like the ones we just named began to think: Religion and salvation come from God, not from a church. Let's study the Bible and see what it says, instead of taking the word of church officials. For saying and writing such ideas these men were persecuted. Some were killed. One of my own relatives, John Hooper, an Englishman, was burned at the stake by "Bloody Mary," queen of England, for being a Protestant.

Because so many Protestants were killed, imprisoned, hounded from home, driven from their country, and branded as heathen, they began to have this idea: Why not create a land where all men can worship God according to their own consciences?

Not all Protestants believed this. Some of them, even in America, the New World, wanted to force others to believe their way. But they soon saw their mistake. They joined with such great men as William Penn and Roger Williams in establishing true religious freedom for men of all churches or of no church.

They had been treated so shamefully that they wanted nobody else to endure the hardships they suffered. No longer should innocent, God-fearing families lie shivering with fright at night, afraid that police would arrest them for reading the Bible, or singing hymns, or talking together about Jesus Christ. Neither they nor Roman Catholics nor Jews nor anybody of any creed or religion should be punished for following their beliefs. Also, they said, it was wrong for the government to take tax money from citizens by force and give it to any church, however good that church might be.

So, they created a new nation, the United States of America, where no church group persecutes another, where all men may worship God in their own way, where tax money is not turned over to churches, where we can sleep soundly at night without fear of arrest for our religious convictions.

Protestants are not the only ones who now believe in religious freedom. Gradually other churches are turning to our position as the right one. They know that love of God cannot be forced on men. We must love and worship him because we want to.

Be proud of your Protestant heritage. Because of it Americans worship God in many ways without conflict. May the day come when people everywhere can do the same.

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