September 21, 2003October 19, 2003Meeting Report

October 3, 2003

Walter Pontynen and Karen Scott

Roger Williams: Freedom's Forgotten Hero

There was a small turnout on October 3 for what turned out to be a great meeting. Our guests were Walter Pontynen, a retired high school history teacher, and Karen Scott, an attorney, who jointly produced a documentary film, "Roger Williams: Freedom’s Forgotten Hero."

The film was about the life of the man who founded Rhode Island after fleeing the theocracy of the 17th century Massachusetts Bay Colony. They showed excerpts from the film and a series of slides about the life and ideas of Roger Williams.

Roger Williams was a devout Christian, born in England and educated at Cambridge before moving to Massachusetts in 1631. He quickly ran afoul of the religious establishment and had to flee in January 1636 to avoid arrest. He founded Providence later that year and welcomed people of all religious persuasions. Rhode Island became the first genuinely free British colony in North America. It has the oldest Baptist church and the oldest synagogue in the United States. It also had the first Roman Catholic church outside Maryland in the British colonies in North America. This was a result of Williams’ belief that forced religious observance was wrong and would fill the churches with hypocrites. He objected to requiring atheists to take oaths ending with the words "so help me God." He is the real originator, in America, of the idea of the separation of church and state.

Mr. Pontynen, with his strong interest in history, was quite critical of Stephen Carter and Philip Hamburger, two modern American historians, who he thinks are giving an incorrect interpretation of the separation principle, one that could result in the undermining of religious liberty. Carter, according to Pontynen, proposed a one-way wall that would allow religious intrusion into government. Both of our speakers agreed with Williams that the union of church and state would corrupt both. History shows that they are right.

Report prepared by Wayne Luney, HAGSA Recorder

Click below for biographical information on both speakers. (It will appear in a new browser window.)

Pontynen and Scott Bios

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