Rhode Island’s state primary is just a few days away. Although this year’s campaign season is generating record turnouts across the nation, it is safe to say a majority of Rhode Islanders will stay away from the polling places. Many do not see an integral connection between faith and politics or their obligation to exercise their voting privileges.
It wasn’t always that way. Despite recent rewriting of historical facts, colonial Rhode Island’s first governor, Roger Williams, never preached intolerance of religion understood today as separation of church and state. He envisioned and implemented a structure by which the government would not dictate religious principles to the people while at the same time he realized a system through which everyone’s religious views would have a direct role in the decision making process of government.
Williams’ foundational thesis is seldom quoted because doing so halts the arguments of those who wish to limit religion’s freedom. He said, on being granted a charter for this new colony, that is was by divine providence “to hold forth a lively experiment that a most flourishing civil state may stand and best be maintained with full liberty in religious concernments.”
Governor Williams’ proposal was radical for his time, proposing something that clearly challenged the establishment of the day. The only way to blaspheme the ideology of Roger Williams would be for the faith-based voters to stay home on Election Day.
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