Some controversies seem particularly significant for the development of constitutional rights. For the freedom from an establishment of religion, the most famous early debate occurred in Virginia in the mid-1780s. For the more immediate freedom of religion, however – the freedom from penalty or constraint on religion – the central historical debate is less familiar. It was in some respects merely a local quarrel, which embroiled Quakers and Revolutionaries in Philadelphia during a few tense weeks in 1775. Nonetheless, it was a revealing moment in the development of American religious liberty. At a time when Americans were struggling for equality against Britain, they also expected equality in their religious liberty, and their egalitarian vision of their freedom from penalties on religion soon came into conflict with the perspective of those who needed a greater religious liberty. Of course, this tension between different conceptions of religious liberty was evident in many states, but nowhere were the results more dramatic than in Philadelphia, and today, the controversy in Philadelphia reveals much about the character of American religious liberty and about its foundations in American society and its ideals.
Philip A. Hamburger,
Religious Freedom in Philadelphia,
Emory L. J.
Available at: https://scholarship.law.columbia.edu/faculty_scholarship/2234