By: Nathan Oman
George Santayana once observed that having a religion that is no religion in particular is as difficult as speaking a language that is no language in particular. This is certainly true of religious freedom in the United States in the nineteenth century. In the religious model that emerged in the decades before the Civil War, legitimate religion consisted of denominational diversity within a Protestant model of Christianity. Religion that diverged sharply from a model of congregational Protestantism was classified not as “religion” but as “fanaticism.” Methodists, Baptists, and Presbyterians were religious believers. Catholics and Mormons were fanatics, a classification that allowed Protestant America to affirm both religious freedom and legal hostility toward non-Protestants.