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Leader Resource 1: Three Stories of Religious Freedom
This story draws from the following sources:
Edict of Torda (Word), from the Ministerial Fellowship Committee Reading List.
Independent Christian Church Unitarian Universalist in Gloucester, MA. History Webpage.
Charles Howe. The Larger Faith: A Short History of American Universalism (Boston: Skinner House Books, 1993)
Edict of Torda—1568
In the 1500s, as the Protestant Reformation rolled across Europe, a young prince named John Sigismund took power in Hungary. He appointed as his court preacher a man named Frances David. David was a religious reformer who had rejected the idea of the Trinity that was an important theological teaching in both the Catholic Church and many Protestant reform movements such as Lutheranism and Calvinism. David believed that there was no evidence in the Bible of a Holy Trinity made up of the Father (God), the Son (Jesus) and the Holy Ghost. Instead, he believed that God was the only divine being, that Jesus was God's human representation on earth, and that there was no Holy Ghost. This belief was known as Unitarianism and David founded the Unitarian Church in Hungary.
Sigismund and David also both believed that there should be an open debate about religious ideas. At his court, Sigismund hosted debates between Unitarian, Catholic, Lutheran, and Calvinist theologians. In 1568, Sigismund also announced what is called the Edict of Torda. The text of this edict is as follows:
His majesty, our Lord, in what manner he—together with his realm—legislated in the matter of religion at the previous Diets, in the same matter now, in this Diet, reaffirms that in every place the preachers shall preach and explain the Gospel each according to his understanding of it, and if the congregation like it, well. If not, no one shall compel them for their souls would not be satisfied, but they shall be permitted to keep a preacher whose teaching they approve. Therefore none of the superintendents or others shall abuse the preachers, no one shall be reviled for his religion by anyone, according to the previous statutes, and it is not permitted that anyone should threaten anyone else by imprisonment or by removal from his post for his teaching. For faith is the gift of God and this comes from hearing, which hearings is by the word of God.
The Edict of Torda was one of the earliest expressions by a European government affirming people's right for religious freedom. Shortly after the Edict of Torda was announced, King Sigismund was forced from power. A more religiously conservative king replaced him and Frances David was put in prison, where he eventually died.
Universalist Church of Gloucester, Massachusetts—1786
While the American Revolutionary War was fought and the United States was formed, much was changing in the religious landscape as well. At that time in New England, the Congregational church was the dominant church in most cities and towns. In fact, they were state sanctioned and had the ability to collect taxes for the upkeep of their churches. In some towns the parish minister and town mayor were the same person.
In 1779, the first Universalist Church in America was established in Gloucester, Massachusetts, and they called John Murray to be their first minister. However, the members of this church, along with members of other churches in Gloucester, were forced to continue to pay taxes to support the Congregational parish in the town. Members of the Universalist Church and the Baptist Church refused to pay the taxes. In 1782, the town of Gloucester seized property from the Universalist Church for repayment of what they saw as the taxes that were due.
The Universalist Church sued the city so that they would no longer be required to pay taxes to support the Congregational Church. In 1786, the Supreme Judicial Court of the new Commonwealth of Massachusetts agreed and ruled that the Universalists and the Baptists should not be required to pay those taxes. This case helped set the precedent for the separation of church and state, which was eventually enshrined in the United States Constitution's Bill of Rights in 1791.
Unitarian Universalist Association and the Boy Scouts of America—1985 to present
There has been a long history of Unitarian Universalist young men taking part in the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) and of Unitarian Universalist congregations hosting Boy Scout troops. However, in the 1980s, the Boy Scouts began actively excluding agnostics and atheists as well as gay men and boys from the scouts. The conflict is detailed in a series of letters between leaders of the Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) and Boy Scout national officials. In response to this exclusion the UUA's Board of Trustees passed a resolution in 1992 expressing disapproval of the Boy Scouts of America's policy of discrimination against gay and atheist scouts and leaders.
The practical effect of the Board resolution was that the UUA revised the Religion in Life manual that Unitarian Universalist Boy Scouts follow to earn their religion badge. The revision expressed the Association's opposition to the policies of the Boy Scouts of America. This led to the BSA's withdrawal of its authorization for the Unitarian Universalist Religion and Life manual and badge. The UUA's attempts to have the UU Religion in Life award reauthorized failed. As a result, UU Boy Scouts are not authorized to wear the UU Religion in Life badge on their uniforms.
In 2000, the United States Supreme Court upheld the Boy Scouts of America's right to bar gay scouts and scout leaders in the Boy Scouts by a narrow 5 to 4 vote. After this decision, the UUA called for a halt to all public funding for the Boy Scouts and the revocation of the Boy Scouts' Congressional charter. Many Unitarian Universalist churches that once hosted Boy Scout troops began to disallow the use of the property for Boy Scout activities while others have stayed involved.
In May 2013, the BSA agreed to admit openly gay scouts, and the UUA president responded with a statement reacting to that decision, saying, in part:
…it remains wrong to continue to discriminate against scout leaders, Eagle Scouts, and parents. I fear the continued discrimination against gay adults sends the wrong message to gay youth. These youth will not feel fully accepted into the scouting family.
Discrimination based on sexual orientation does not belong in scouting and is inconsistent with the BSA’s own values of respect and kindness.
Unitarian Universalists remain hopeful that one day soon the BSA will change its remaining policies of discrimination and prejudice to ones of inclusion and respect for all who wish to participate in scouting at every level.
In July 2015, the BSA amended its adult leadership standards to include gay scout leaders. In response, UUA President Rev. Peter Morales issued a statement, saying, in part:
Given the BSA’s recent policy change, I look forward to initiating a dialogue between our two organizations in order to re-establish right relations. Together, we can create a welcoming community for all UU boys and young men who want to participate in scouting.
The UUA has reached out to the BSA to initiate a dialogue about re-establishing a relationship for the benefit of Unitarian Universalist boys and families who wish to take part in Boy Scouting. The UUA Religion in Life (PDF) program has been updated and is now available online.