From The Wordy Shipmates
Protestantism's evolution away from hierarchy and authority has enormous consequences for America and the world. On the one hand, the democratization of religion runs parallel to political democratization. The king of England, questioning the pope, inspires English subjects to question the king and his Anglican bishops. Such dissent is backed up by a Bible full of handy Scripture arguing for arguing with one's king. This is the root of self-government in the English-speaking world.
On the other hand, Protestantism's shedding away of authority, as evidenced by my mother's proclamation that I needn't go to church or listen to a preacher to achieve salvation, inspires self-reliance - along with a dangerous disregard for expertise. So the impulse that leads to democracy can also be the downside of democracy - namely, a suspicion of people who know what they are talking about. It's why in US presidential elections the American people will elect a wisecracking good ol' boy who's fun in a malt shop instead of a serious thinker who actually knows some of the pompous, brainy stuff that might actually get fewer people laid off or killed.
In 1790, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson come to Newport, stumping for the Bill of Rights. (Rhode Island is the last state to ratify the Constitution precisely because its citizens hold out for a bill of rights so they can retain the freedom of religion they have enjoyed since the days of Roger Williams.) Moses Sexias, a member of the Touro Synagogue, wrote Washington a letter asking about his administration's policy toward Jews. Washington's response, addressed "to the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, Rhode Island," reassures Sexias and his brethren that the American government goes beyond mere tolerance:
The Citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy: a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent national gifts. For happily the Government of the United States... gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.