Roger Williams, an English separatist (one who advocated separating from the Anglican Church of England) and an apprentice of Sir Edward Coke, came to the Massachusetts Bay colony in 1631. He was immediately offered a teaching position which he turned down. He embarrassed the Puritan Separatists by claiming they should openly separate from the Church of England. He went further by denying the civil authority the right to punish infractions of religious rules or doctrines. This struck at the very core of theocratic principles, and the General Court replied that it was absurd to maintain that a church might fall into heresy and the civil magistrate could not intermeddle.
The mere thought that the state should be separate from the church was up to now unheard of, and the thought put fear into the Puritan rulers.
Williams also denied the right of the king to make land grants to the colonists. Williams maintained that the land belonged to the Indians and should be purchased from them. He went on to refuse the loyalty oath to Massachusetts and urged his congregation to do likewise.
The Puritans had enough. He was banished from the colony. Williams went on to purchase his own land from the Indians and started Providence colony. The heads of household were the voters of the colony, and there was complete religious freedom, free from the state. Free to worship, or not to worship, without fear of retribution. This became important for later fugitives of Massachusetts. Baptists, Quakers, and Jews were welcome to Providence.
According to Williams, coerced religion led sects to “slaughter each other for their several respective religions and conscience.” He believed that persecuting anyone for the practice (or non practice) of any religion was to persecute one for the Liberty of Conscience.
The logic of Liberty had, as we shall see, even more drastic implications. For, as some citizens of Providence began to reason, if the conscience of the individual was to be supreme in religious matters, if the state was to have no power to interfere with any actions determined by his religious conscience, why wouldn’t this extend to civil matters as well? Why shouldn’t the individual’s conscience reign supreme in all civil as well as religious affairs? Murray Rothbard, Conceived in Liberty