Timeline of Religious Freedom for the United States

The history of religious freedom lies at the intersection of many key themes in U.S history, therefore, it can be difficult to determine what to include or exclude. When discerning the scope of the timeline, please consider the following three criteria: relevance, impact, and inclusivity. In order to be open to new insights and developments, we are open to making changes to this rubric and timeline over time. ;xNLx;;xNLx;RELEVANCE: A moment in American history is relevant for this project if it advances the Religious Freedom Center’s mission: “to educate the public about the history, meaning, and significance of religious freedom and to promote dialogue and understanding among people of all religions and none.” Specifically, this timeline presents the history of religious freedom in the United States.;xNLx;;xNLx;IMPACT: Even if the general public does not immediately associate an item on the timeline with religious freedom, certain events and people exerted such a strong impact that they transformed religious freedom. These include the Declaration of Independence, or McCarthyism, which altered the religious and social fabric of the United States. ;xNLx;;xNLx;INCLUSIVITY: Traditional history and archival structures emphasize Christian and western history. Therefore, when deciding between a Christian and a non-Christian event or an eastern and western event, it is an opportunity to make history more inclusive of eastern and non-Christian milestones. This is likewise an opportunity to advance the objective: “to promote dialogue and understanding among people of all religions and none,” particularly the “all religions and none.”

1215-01-01 00:00:00

Magna Carta

In 1215, the rebel barons compelled King John to authorize in the Magna Carta: “The English church shall be free, and shall have its rights undiminished and its liberties unimpaired.” (Magna Carta)

1440-01-01 00:00:00

Printing Press

In 1440, the printing press made the Bible widely available to the masses. However, the printing press was also a major factor in spurring religious wars.

1492-01-01 00:00:00

Spanish Inquisition of Jews

In 1492, Queen Isabella’s Catholic Spain expelled, murdered, and tortured Jews. Spain forced Jews who remained to convert to Catholicism. If people practiced Judaism, then the Spanish state burned them alive. Spain’s Inquisition against Jews ended 300 years later in 1844.

1492-01-01 00:00:00

Luis de Torres

In 1492, Luis de Torres became the first Jew to reach the Americas when he arrived with Christopher Columbus. Torres had worked as an interpreter in Spain because he was fluent in Hebrew, Aramaic, Arabic, and Portuguese. Spain forced him to convert to Catholicism prior to the voyage. Torres joined a small regiment to remain on the island of Hispaniola, which are now the Dominican Republic and the Republic of Haiti. Native Americans conquered the regiment in retaliation for abducting native women. Christopher Columbus later heard that one of his men had disparaged Catholicism, likely Torres because his conversion was not voluntary.

1502-01-01 00:00:00

Spanish Inquisition of Muslims and Catholics

In 1502, the Spanish Inquisition began to persecute Muslims. Catholics who attempted to dissent would also suffer persecution.

1502-08-05 00:00:00

Bartolome de las Casas

On August 15, 1514, Bartolome de Las Casas advocated for his slaves’ human rights in his sermon. He believed it was wrong for the government to force people to concede their religious beliefs and practices. Las Casas convinced King Charles I to let him found “towns of free Indians” where Spaniards and Native Americans would work collaboratively to form an American civilization.

1515-08-05 00:00:00

European Witch Hunts

Switzerland burned 500 supposed witches at the stake, along with France and Germany.

1517-10-31 12:10:34

95 Theses

61 years after the invention of the printing press, Martin Luther posted the 95 Theses in protest, hence “Protestant,” of the Catholic Church’s doctrine of indulgences.

1520-12-01 00:00:00

Failed Peace

Las Casas founded a new colony in Venezuela for people of diverse backgrounds and races to cohabitate peacefully. Unfortunately, neighboring Native Americans saw Spaniards enslaving other natives, so they attacked the new colony, terminating Las Casas’s experiment with diversity.

1521-12-01 00:00:00

Cathedral of San Juan Batista

In 1521, the Cathedral of San Juan Bautista in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico became the first church building in what is now the United States and the second in the Americas.

Timeline of Religious Freedom for the United States

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