350th anniversary of Rhode Island's "lively experiment" in religious freedom
From the 350th Anniversary Announcement, January 30, 2013
“In 1663, before Massachusetts, Philadelphia, or anywhere else, Rhode Island became the “Cradle of Liberty.” Roger Williams was stubbornly resolved to secure the first Colonial charter in history affirming freedom of religion, separation of church and state, and a government not appointed by the King but elected by the people. John Clarke of Newport spent 12 years in London to secure this precious document which created the freest Colonial society in the world.
With this precedent-setting freedom, there developed a unique culture. With no dominant church, town and city settlement patterns grew without a central “common.” Those who faced persecution elsewhere – including practitioners of the Jewish faith, Huguenots, Quakers, Baptists, and those of other religions and creeds – found refuge and flourished. At least for the first two decades of the settlement Colonists and Native Americans enjoyed mutual respect. Rhode Island developed a thriving commerce with the world and the architectural treasures of Newport, Providence, and our colonial villages are surviving testaments to the wealth created through the coexistence and trade of a diversity of faiths.
What was born here – the separation of church from state and freedom to worship without interference from government – is a principle of universal value. Codified in this document, and eventually echoed in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, these principles are still shaping the aspirations of freedom-loving peoples around the world.
Our challenge here today is to remind our families, friends, visitors, and especially our children, of the remarkable nature of Rhode Island’s Charter of 1663. And I strongly believe that celebrating and refreshing how we present and interpret our unique heritage and history are key to driving up tourism and invigorating our economy.”