Sep­a­ra­tion of church and state

The Register Citizen (Torrington, CT) - - HAVE YOUR SAY - By Scott Dou­glas Ger­ber Scott Dou­glas Ger­ber is a vis­it­ing pro­fes­sor of po­lit­i­cal the­ory at Brown Univer­sity and a law pro­fes­sor at Ohio North­ern Univer­sity.

The Con­necti­cut Constitution of 1818 is cel­e­brat­ing its bi­cen­ten­nial this year. Given that the two sep­a­rate colonies that united in 1665 to cre­ate what be­came the state of Con­necti­cut in 1776 were both founded to es­tab­lish ideal Pu­ri­tan poli­ties, the 1818 constitution’s most sig­nif­i­cant im­pact on the his­tory of Con­necti­cut is al­most cer­tainly the sep­a­ra­tion of church and state that it man­dated.

The River Colony of Hart­ford, Wethers­field, and Wind­sor was planted in 1636. The Fun­da­men­tal Or­ders of 1639 that served as the River Colony’s constitution were de­signed to es­tab­lish a civil gov­ern­ment to pre­serve the Con­gre­ga­tional churches: there was no tol­er­a­tion of any re­li­gion ex­cept Pu­ri­tanism.

The New Haven Colony was planted in 1638 for the same rea­son as the River Colony: to cre­ate a Pu­ri­tan theoc­racy. The late Perry Miller, the most cel­e­brated of the in­tel­lec­tual his­to­ri­ans of Amer­i­can Pu­ri­tanism, fa­mously char­ac­ter­ized New Haven as “the Bible Com­mon­wealth and noth­ing else.”

When the River Colony and the New Haven Colony joined in 1665 to form a uni­fied Con­necti­cut Colony, New Haven’s for­mal act of sub­mis­sion em­pha­sized the an­i­mat­ing prin­ci­ple of Pu­ri­tan Con­gre­ga­tion­al­ism shared by the for­merly sep­a­rate colonies. From that date for­ward New Haven be­came a part of the Con­necti­cut Colony and was sub­ject to the laws of Con­necti­cut, in­clud­ing the dic­tates of the 1662 char­ter. Sig­nif­i­cantly, al­though the Con­necti­cut Char­ter of 1662 su­per­seded the Fun­da­men­tal Or­ders of 1639 as Con­necti­cut’s colo­nial constitution, the colony’s an­i­mat­ing prin­ci­ple re­mained Pu­ri­tan Con­gre­ga­tion­al­ism, which was de­creed to be “the only and prin­ci­pal End of this Plan­ta­tion.”

Schol­ars of Con­necti­cut’s his­tory dis­agree about what led to the demise of Con­necti­cut’s an­i­mat­ing prin­ci­ple of Pu­ri­tan Con­gre­ga­tion­al­ism in the Con­necti­cut Constitution of 1818. The pre­vail­ing view seems to be that a sim­mer­ing stew of re­li­gious, eco­nomic, po­lit­i­cal, and so­cial in­gre­di­ents led to it. A constitution is law, how­ever, and a strong ar­gu­ment can be made that as the statu­tory law and com­mon law in Con­necti­cut be­tween 1665 and 1818 be­came more ac­com­mo­dat­ing to de­nom­i­na­tions other than the gov­ern­men­tally sanc­tioned Pu­ri­tan one, it was the law it­self that was largely re­spon­si­ble for trans­form­ing Con­necti­cut from a theoc­racy to a democ­racy. It is true that the law in Con­necti­cut only grad­u­ally be­came more tol­er­ant of non-es­tab­lished de­nom­i­na­tions—for ex­am­ple, the 1708 law per­mit­ting “sober dis­sent” was un­evenly ap­plied and re­pealed at one point—but once the law sparked re­li­gious free­dom’s flame in Con­necti­cut it could never be truly ex­tin­guished.

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