WE THINK OF WILLIAMS AS THE FIRST PROPONENT OF THE SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE. HOW DID HIS VIEWS DIFFER FROM THE PRESENT-DAY CONCEPTION OF SUCH A SEPARATION? He had a remarkably modern view of this — extraordinary, in fact; far in advance of even those who followed him and whom he influenced, like John Locke. You've got to remember Williams was not a secular man personally. He was a devout Puritan minister, with such a good reputation that the day he arrived in America the Boston church asked him to be their minister. He declined because he didn't think their church was pure enough. But he also believed, as you might say today, when you mix religion and politics you get politics. So he called for "a wall of separation" between church and state to protect the church. And he compared forced prayer to "spiritual rape." So he demanded "a permission of the most Paganish, Jewish, Turkish, or Antichristian consciences and worships." By "Turkish" he of course meant Islamic. In England, almost no one went that far. Even those who called for tolerating all religions often meant tolerating only Protestant sects, not Catholics, whom they considered traitors. And even those who would tolerate Catholics would not tolerate "Antichristians," i.e., atheists. So he really was extraordinary.

WILLIAMS IS REMEMBERED HERE IN RHODE ISLAND, BUT NOT SO MUCH IN THE REST OF THE COUNTRY. WHY? Probably because, as the saying goes, history is written by the victors. Massachusetts had power and influence. Rhode Island did not. The views of Massachusetts permeated those who tended to write American history.

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