The word “liberty” burned in the hearts of those who were part of America's founding generation. More than any other word it defined their hopes and aspirations. That is why we have the “Liberty Bell” and the “Statue of Liberty.” That is why Patrick Henry cried out, “Give me liberty or give me death.” It is why Abraham Lincoln, in his famous Gettysburg Address, described America as having been “conceived in liberty.”
This promise of American liberty has attracted to these shores masses of people from all over the world, and continues to do so. But why did it happen here? Why did it not happen in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan or China? Was it a mere happenstance of fate that this liberty came forth in America at the time it did?
The truth is that American liberty was the purposeful outcome of America’s Founders. American liberty was created from a definitive worldview that provided the moral and intellectual underpinnings for such liberty. Without that moral and philosophical foundation, American liberty cannot long survive.
Psalms 11:3 asks, When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do? The answer is that the righteous in American must rediscover the foundation of our liberty and restore that righteous foundation to our culture. Otherwise, we are in grave danger of losing the very liberty for which so many have sacrificed, fought and died.
Searching for the Source
The intellectual and moral underpinnings for American liberty did not come from the Enlightenment, as is commonly taught. Enlightenment ideology produced the bloody and chaotic French Revolution with over twenty thousand being executed because they were considered enemies of the new regime. Historian, Benjamin Hart, says, “The French Revolution is a grim example of how people behave when they are unchecked by a sense of religious obligation. (Hyatt, Pilgrims and Patriots, 169).
Neither could Roman Catholicism, Lutheranism or Anglicanism provide the necessary ideology for such liberty. They were all caught in the Constantinian trap wherein church had been merged with the state and the church used the power of the state to enforce its doctrines and practices.
This use of force in matters of faith began with Constantine and one hundred years later was given theological justification by the great church father from North Africa, Augustine. The use of the sword in matters of faith thus became an accepted modus operandi for the church during the medieval period. And with the masses cut off from the Scriptures, there were only limited protests that were quickly crushed.
Martin Luther struck a blow for freedom of conscience and religious liberty when at his trial for heresy he boldly resisted demands that he retract his teachings, declaring that “it is unsafe and dangerous to do anything against the conscience.” He went on to say, “My conscience is bound in the word of God, and I cannot and will not recant anything” (Hyatt, Pilgrims and Patriots, 16).
Luther, however, after being condemned as a heretic, needed the protection of the powerful German Prince Frederick to keep from being arrested and executed for heresy. This dependence on the civil authority then led to Lutheranism becoming the official church of Germany. This meant that in Germany Lutheranism was upheld and imposed on the populace by the German princes.
In England, Anglicanism was upheld and imposed by the British monarchs. Even in John Calvin’s city-state of Geneva there was an unhealthy intertwining of the church and civil authority. Those who dissented from the “official” form of worship and doctrine in these countries, just like in Catholic countries, were harassed, persecuted and even put to death.
Identifying the Source
The intellectual and moral force for American liberty was provided by the most radical elements of the Protestant Reformation—the Anabaptists, Separatist Puritans, Quakers, and English Baptists. Hart says,
It was Protestants of the most radical stripe, most zealous in their religious convictions (those whom the America Civil Liberties Union would like to see outlawed from the public discourse) who were in fact the greatest proponents of religious liberty as codified in America’s governing charter 200 years later (Hyatt, Pilgrims and Patriots, 66-67).
These groups were most passionate in their desire to recover and live out the Christianity of Jesus and the New Testament. With the invention of the printing press and the Bible now more accessible, they  discovered that no basis for the use of force was to be found in the teachings of Jesus and the New Testament. They, therefore, vehemently opposed the use of civil power to impose doctrine and modes of worship on the people.
These “Radical Reformers,” as George Williams, late Professor of Church History at Yale, called them, insisted that the state should have no role in matters of faith and individual conscience. No one, they insisted, should be forced to act against their sincerely held religious convictions.
They pointed out that this unbiblical use of force in matters of faith had begun with Constantine and his marriage of the church with the state. They insisted that this ungodly marriage had created a corrupt and false church that relied on the power of the state rather than the power of the gospel message for its existence and expansion.
This Radical Reformation began in Switzerland but soon spread throughout continental Europe where its proponents became known as "Anabaptists," a derogatory term used by their opponents, meaning “those who rebaptize.” These Anabaptists then influenced other groups such as the Separatist Puritans, Quakers and Baptists.
The Remarkable Influence
In his writings on the Radical Reformation, Williams emphasizes the influence these groups had on the thinking of Western civilization, particularly in the areas of individual freedom and religious liberty. He wrote,
The whole Western world, not only the direct descendants of the Continental Anabaptists, not alone even the larger Protestant community, but all who cherish Western institutions and freedoms, must acknowledge their indebtedness to the valor and the vision of the Anabaptists who glimpsed afresh the disparities between the church and the world, even when the latter construed itself as Christian (Hyatt, Pilgrims and Patriots, 58-59).
America’s Founders, to one degree or another, were all impacted by the ideals of the Radical Reformers. It is clear from Benjamin Franklin’s Autobiography that both his parents and grandparents, whom he calls “dissenting Protestants,” were part of this Radical Reformation. His father, who was  a devout Christian, fled to America to escape persecution from the national, state church in England.
Separatist Puritans settled New England, Baptists settled Rhode Island and Quakers settled Pennsylvania. All shared the radical ideas of individual liberty, especially in matters of faith, and that the role of the civil government was to protect everyone’s freedom without any show of favoritism.
Virginia was initially settled by Anglicans and Anglicanism was made the official church of Virginia. However, the radical ideas of liberty made great inroads into Virginia so that Thomas Jefferson would say that by the time of the American Revolution three-quarters of Virginia’s population were “dissenting Protestants" (Hyatt, Pilgrims and Patriots, 56).
The Influence of John Locke
The Founders were also helped in this regard by the well-known Enlightenment philosopher, John Locke, whom they often quote. What many do not realize, or choose to ignore, is that Locke was born of Puritan stock and was profoundly influenced by Separatist Puritan ideals of individual liberty.
Locke, who was a devout Christian, argued for a government that allows a free and open marketplace of religious ideas. Christianity, being true, would always prevail in such a free and open marketplace, he insisted. He agreed with John Milton who wrote;
Let Truth and Falsehood grapple; who ever knew truth put to the worse in free and open encounter? She needs no policies, nor strategems, nor licensings to make her victorious . . . Give her but room.
Locke insisted that if Christians forced their faith on others, they committed a great offense against Almighty God. Only an un-coerced religious commitment could be genuine and authentic. Religious toleration was, therefore, the best way for non-Christians to be won to Christ.
This radical sort of thinking about liberty, tolerance and the power of Christian truth was predominant in the thinking of the Founders. Jefferson’s statement on this matter shows the influence of both Locke and the Radical Reformers. He wrote,
Truth can stand by itself … If there be but one right religion and Christianity that one, we should wish to see the nine hundred and ninety-nine wandering sects gathered into the fold of truth. But against such a majority we cannot effect this by force. Reason and persuasion are the only practicable instruments. To make way for these, free inquiry must be indulged; and how can we wish others to indulge it while we refuse it ourselves.
Seeing the First Amendment in Context
When, therefore, the Founders wrote the First Amendment they did so in light of the ideals of individual liberty that had their source in the “dissenting Protestants,” or "Radical Reformers," as they are also called. They were not banning Christain influence from government; they merely did not want Congress to ever establish a national, state-supported church like the nations of Europe. 

This ideal of religius liberty, as expressed in the First Amendment, instead of choking religious expression, removed all such hindrances. That the First Amendment has nothing to do with banning religious expression was demonstrated by the fact that the day after instituting the First Amendment those same Founders issued a proclamation for a national day of prayer. 
Yes, the First Amendment that declares, "Congress shall make not law concerning the establishment of religion nor hindering the free exercise thereof," comes directly from the "dissenting Protestants." This is why John Adams, America’s Second President, would declare, “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate for the government of any other” (Hyatt, Pilgrims and Patriots, 172-73).
George Washington’s Warning
In his Farewell Address after serving two terms as America’s first President, George Washington warned the young nation to guard the foundations of liberty that had been laid by the Founders. Interestingly, these “indispensable supports,” as he called them, are under attack on multiple fronts in our nation today.
When Washington and all the Founders use the word “religion” they are using it in a positive way to refer to Christianity. Notice that there is no hesitance on Washington’s part in laying out the vital role of Christian faith for America’s happiness and success. He said,
Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion [Christianity] and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle (Hyatt, Pilgrims and Patriots, 169-70).
Washington says that religion [i.e., Christianity] and morality are indispensable supports for political prosperity, and he warns against the supposition that morality could be sustained without Christianity. In other words, he warns against any attempt to separate God from the state; that is, against trying to secularize the American political system.
Washington did not want a civil government dictating in matters of faith, but neither did he want a secularized government devoid of the positive and healing influences of the Christian faith. He knew the Christianity of the New Testament to be the source for the moral and intellectual underpinnings of American liberty.
Stand Fast in the Source of Our Liberty
The ideals of the Radical Reformers won the day. Today all Christian groups, Catholic and Protestant, have embraced the idea of individual freedom of conscience in matters of faith and worship. Both Catholic and Protestant now reject the use of force in matters of faith and believe the church should be completely free from the state.
This, however, is the area where Islam is incompatible with the American system for Islam is not just a religion, but also a political system with its own laws (Sharia), judiciary and system of enforcement. State and religion are merged in Islam, which is why individual and religious liberty are curtailed or nonexistent in Islamic nations.
In Galatians 5:1, Paul issued a warning to his converts in Galatia who were being seduced away from the liberty they had found in Christ. He exhorted, Stand fast in the liberty wherein Christ has made you free and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage.
Paul’s warning is very appropriate for contemporary America, for American liberty has its ultimate source in the teachings of Jesus and the New Testament. John Adams, America’s second president, understood this. In a letter to his cousin, composed two weeks before the adoption of the Declaration of Independence, he wrote,
Statesmen, my dear sir, may plan and speculate for Liberty, but it is Religion and Morality alone, which can establish the Principles, upon which Freedom can securely stand (Hyatt, Pilgrims and Patriots, 173).
What Can We Do?
The secularization of America and the ongoing attacks on everything Christian, if left unchecked, will lead to a complete loss of the liberty known by our parents and grandparents. The Founders understood this and left ample warnings.
What can we do? We, as followers of Christ, must be politely uncompromising in our faith. We must be salt and light to this generation. And we must pray for God to send another Great Awakening across this great land. 

This article is derived from Dr. Eddie Hyatt's book, Pilgrims and Patriots, available from Amazon and his website at www.eddiehyatt.com. To contact him about a speaking engagement, send an email to dreddiehyatt@gmail.com.