Pennsylvania became the 2nd State to join the Union on DECEMBER 12, 1787. The Continental Congress had met there, the Declaration of Independence was signed there, and the Liberty Bell was rung there. The Continental Army spent the freezing winter of 1777 at Valley Forge there. In 1787, the Constitution was written there, and from 1790-1800, the United States Capitol was there.
Originally, Pennsylvania was given by King Charles II, in 1682, to William Penn, a Quaker dissenter who was the son of a famous Admiral.
The colony’s first legislative Act, The Great Law of Pennsylvania, December 7, 1682, stated:
That no person…who shall confess and acknowledge one Almighty God to be the Creator, Upholder and Ruler of the World…shall in any case be molested or prejudiced for his, or her Conscientious persuasion or practice…but shall freely and fully enjoy his or her Christian Liberty without any interruption.
The oldest church in Pennsylvania is Old Swedes’ Gloria Dei Church, begun by Lutheran missionary Johannes Campanius in 1646 among Swedish and Finnish settlers.
In 1706, Rev. Francis Makemie organized the first meeting of Presbyterian leaders in America in Philadelphia.
Beginning in 1720, German and Swiss settlers known as New Baptists, or Dunkers, began arriving in Pennsylvania, along with Anabaptists, Mennonites and Amish.
These were followed by Schwenkfelders, from the Rhine Valley, Alsatia, Suabia, Saxony, and the Palatinate.
Lutheran Reformed Congregations were formed between 1730 and 1740.
German Moravians, or Church of the Brethren, settled Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, in 1739, having previously been in Georgia. They worked particularly with the Native Americans.
Britain’s laws against dissenters drove some 200,000 Scotch-Irish Presbyterians from Scotland and Northern Ireland between 1700 and 1750. Most settled in Western Pennsylvania (Lehigh, Bucks and Lancaster Counties) and in the Cumberland Valley.
The first English speaking Catholic church in the world, since England’s Reformation two centuries earlier, was St. Joseph’s, founded in 1731 in Philadelphia by 22 Irish and 15 Germans.
Several Jewish families organized Pennsylvania’s first congregation, Mikveh Israel, in 1740, building the first Sephardic synagogue in 1782.
The first Ashkenazic Synagogue, Rodeph Shalom, was built in 1795.
When French and Spanish privateers raided America’s coast, Ben Franklin wrote a Proclamation for a General Fast, which was approved by Pennsylvania’s Colonial President and Council, and was published in the Pennsylvania Gazette, DECEMBER 12, 1747:
As the calamities of a bloody war, in which our nation is now engaged, seem every year more nearly to approach us…we have, therefore, thought fit…to appoint…a Day of Fasting & Prayer…that Almighty God would mercifully interpose and still the rage of war among the nations & put a stop to the effusion of Christian blood.
In 1776, Benjamin Franklin signed Pennsylvania first State Constitution, which stated in Frame of Government, Chapter 2, Section 10:
Each member of the legislature, before he takes his seat, shall make and subscribe the following declaration:
‘I do believe in one God, the Creator and Governour of the Universe, the Rewarder of the good and Punisher of the wicked, and I do acknowledge the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be given by Divine Inspiration.’
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court, in Updegraph vs. Commonwealth, 1824, acknowledged a 1700 law still in force, which imposed a penalty upon any who “willfully, premeditatedly and despitefully blaspheme, or speak lightly or profanely of Almighty God, Christ Jesus, the Holy Spirit, or the Scriptures of Truth.”
Pennsylvania’s founder, William Penn, wrote on July 2, 1698, to Czar Peter the Great of Russia, who had ten years earlier visited Penn in England:
If thou wouldst rule well, thou must rule for God; and to do that, thou must be ruled by Him… Know, great Czar…that ’tis in this kingdom of England that God has visited and touched the hearts of a people, above forty years ago, by the holy light and grace of his Son and our Saviour Jesus Christ…to worship God, who is a Spirit, in and by his own Spirit.
The Moral Liberal contributing editor, William J. Federer, is the bestselling author of “Backfired: A Nation Born for Religious Tolerance no Longer Tolerates Religion,” and numerous other books. A frequent radio and television guest, his daily American Minute is broadcast nationally via radio, television, and Internet. Check out all of Bill’s books here.