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Mary Dyer’s Impact on the First Amendment

founding_fathersSunday, May 25th, was the 227th anniversary of the Constitutional Convention. It’s not one of those anniversaries that’s easy to remember, like the 200th (1987), but it’s worth remembering because it’s the highest law of the world’s oldest continuous democracy – the United States. It’s also the oldest constitution still in use anywhere in the world.

The hero of my upcoming book, Mary Dyer, Friend of Freedom, had a big impact on part of that document. Now, you can’t draw a direct line from Mary to the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious freedom and separation of church and state, but she definitely shaped the colonists and the Founding Fathers’ acceptance of it in 1791.

How? Consider this: When the Massachusetts Bay Colony hanged Mary in 1660 for refusing to stop preaching Quaker beliefs, newly crowned King Charles II sent soldiers to Massachusetts to enforce religious tolerance. He ordered them to stop persecuting Quakers and other religions they didn’t like. He eventually revoked Massachusetts charter to rule itself.

His brother, King James II, sent a royal governor to rule Massachusetts, and in 1689, the English Parliament passed a law guaranteeing religious freedom to all Protestants in Great Britain and the colonies. And the Quakers in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware were already enforcing religious tolerance for everyone, including Catholics, Jews, and Muslims.

So, perhaps Mary Dyer didn’t live to see the First Amendment (passed 131 years after her death), but her decades-long fight for religious tolerance planted the seeds that led to those important liberties. And despite Mary’s battle to see women allowed to participate in politics and church matters, no woman signed the U.S. Constitution – yet it’s clear her spirit lived among those who did.


To learn more about Mary Dyer’s life and struggles, be sure to pick up a copy of my middle-grade book, Mary Dyer, Friend of Freedom, this fall. (September 2, pre-orders available beginning late August.) Thanks!

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This entry was posted on May 27, 2014 by in Mary Dyer, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , .
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