Patricia Nell Warren

Santorum & the Nausea Factor

Filed By Patricia Nell Warren | February 29, 2012 11:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: Bill of Rights, Body of Liberties, Church of England, First Amendment, Massachusetts, Nathaniel Ward, Newt Gingrich, Pilgrims, Presidential election, Puritans, Quakers, religious freedom, Rick Santorum, separation of church and state

pilgrims.jpgFor weeks now, the news has featured Santorum's comment that the very idea of separation of church and state makes him want to throw up. Not surprisingly, his comment opened the door for liberal commentators to mention their own nausea attacks. I'm one of them. The very thought of this Presidential wannabee, whose ideological chutzpah is so much bigger than his knowledge of American history, is more than my stomach can take.

As early as the 1630s, real-life battles exploded in the American colonies over abuses of legal power by church authorities -- battles that launched our country's painful march towards realizing that church and state had to be separated. Yet Santorum blithely told "Meet the Press" host David Gregory that separation of church and state was "not the founders' vision." Well, um, "vision" depends on which "founders" you're talking about.

Stacking the Deck

Let's look at the festering situation in Massachusetts Bay Colony. Chartered in 1630 as what the king believed to be a commercial venture, in reality it was an underground railroad to get Puritan dissenters out of England and away from Church of England persecution. Once rooted in New England, the Puritan fathers felt safe enough to build their own theocracy, complete with persecution of other believers that was just as fierce as the Church of England's.

The colony's board of governors, originally intended to make corporate decisions, was stacked with ministers and stockholders (called "freemen") who were a law unto themselves. There was no separate civil authority -- no checks and balances -- to hold them accountable. There was a General Court, and a council of assistants, but the churches controlled its membership. No man got into government unless he was exhaustively examined by ministers and pronounced safe on doctrine. Decisions were made, and justice meted out (including executions), on a purely ecclesiastical basis.

By 1635, the colony's population had grown to around 20,000 freemen and family members, with their indentured servants and slaves. Many of these newer arrivals were unhappy with the government's high-handed efforts to control their personal lives, businesses and beliefs. Their aspirations pushed in the direction of a more democratic government, with wider participation in voting and decision-making. Tensions boiled.

In 1636, clergyman Nathaniel Ward, who was knowledgeable about English common law, saw that things were seriously out of control. He sat down with his goose-quill and penned a law code that became known as the Body of Liberties. Other ministers edited his draft with a little Bible language. But essentially the Body remained a list of 100 hot-button legal issues that had to be resolved. Circulated to the angry and abused citizenry, the draft law stirred up a popular movement that lobbied for its adoption by the colony's government.

In 1641, after several years of dragging their heels, the Massachusetts General Court finally adopted the Body of Liberties as their first law code.

Snapshots From a Lost World

This list is vivid reading. In spite of its archaic language, the Body really takes me there to those times whenever I study it. Each of the 100 clauses is a stark snapshot of a particular problem. The snapshots give us a glimpse at how dark and cruel and corrupt was that 1630-41 period of our early history.

In its opening phrases, the Body called for "the free fruition of such liberties, Immunities and priveledges as humanitie, Civilitie, and Christianitie call for as due to every man in his place and proportion without impeachment and Infringement." This was strong language for 1641.

First of all, the Body clearly separated "civill" and "ecclesiastical" powers for the first time. "Civill authoritie" now had the right to prosecute church members. Churches now had no right to remove civil officials from office. Freemen now had the right to elect deputies to the General Court without church interference, and to elect their own governments in their townships.

The Body also established due process and individual human rights. Many of the rights granted later in our post-Revolution Bill of Rights were mentioned for the very first time in the Body. They included: the right to equal justice for all, the right to a speedy jury trial, the right to legal representation, the right to bail, the right to challenge an unfriendly juror. The Body also decreed freedom from double jeopardy, from cruel and unusual "barbarous" punishments, from imprisonment for debt, and from imprisonment without being charged. It even limited the use of torture. The General Court now had a duty to censure judges who were guilty of misconduct.

Nor did the Body ignore the non-freemen of Massachusetts society. Item #80 prohibited wife-beating. "Everie marryed woeman shall be free from bodilie correction or stripes by her husband, unlesse it be in his owne defence upon her assalt." This astounding detail reveals the harshness of life for Puritan women.

Violent abuses of children were also prohibited. Some very minimal humane protections were established for indentured servants and slaves. All these details add up to a picture of a suffocatingly small and ingrown theocracy where violence of all kinds had been rife.

In Item #92, the Body even outlawed cruelty to animals, suggesting that livestock were treated even worse than humans.

From fundamental human rights, the Body moved on to regulate everything from fishing to family estates. Predictably, in #94, it paused to detail the Puritan capital punishments, lifted straight from the Old Testament -- from death for blasphemy and adultery, to death for witchcraft and (of course) sodomy.

Liars, Frauds and Media Morons

No, the Body of Liberties didn't end all abuses. In spite of requiring tolerance for other Christians, it didn't prevent the Puritans' persecution of Quaker immigrants in the 1650s and '60s. (Two of my own Friend ancestors almost got caught in that bloodbath.) Nor did the Body avert the hysteria of the Salem witch trials.

After all, another century and a half would have to pass, before the infant United States would start shaking off the notion that every U.S. citizen should be compelled to conform to a single religious belief.

But the Body of Liberties was a good start. Clearly it began the separation of church and state that was finally codified in our Constitution and Bill of Rights.

Today, this dramatic chapter in our history is often forgotten and ignored. Every Thanksgiving, American schoolchildren are brainwashed all over again with the mushy myth of the nice Pilgrims in funny hats who learned how to grow Indian corn to survive. That's all that kids ever learn of New England colonial history. As a result, some children grow up to be political liars like Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, or academic frauds like "historian" David Barton, or the media morons at Fox News and certain radio talk shows. All of those, and others too, feel free to pontificate about how "America needs to get back to God and His founder principles."

Where are the history departments of our colleges and universities, who should be standing up to give these ignoramuses a high-school history lesson on the Massachusetts Body of Liberties? How about explaining to them that the Body led to the the Bill of Rights -- that key feature of our Constitution that so many religious righters now yammer about abolishing?

Why on Earth are so many Republican candidates for President (and their financial supporters) so out of touch with our real history?

Like I said, I'm nauseous at the thought that Santorum -- or somebody like him -- might be sitting in the White House come January. Hopefully in November, the voters will puke him up -- along with candidates for any other office who allege that America will be okay without separation of church and state.


Read the entire Body of Liberties , along with a period story of how it came to be adopted.


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