As a student in New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, I took a course in Baptist history and felt pride at the discovery of the role Baptists had played in American history. Recently, I got down my copy of Robert G. Torbet's "A History of Baptists" and found again the following passage: "Democratic America should be eternally grateful to the Baptists of colonial New England and Virginia, for it was, in part at least, their struggle for religious liberty which culminated victoriously in the omission of any religious tests or restrictions when the Constitution of the United States was being framed . ...It has been to safeguard their beliefs in the priesthood of the believer and in religious freedom that Baptists have insisted upon the complete separation of church and state."
The passion of Baptists about these matters was the result of their own experience of oppression by the governments of colonial states. Some (but not all) immigrants from Europe came to these shores to establish the shining "city on a hill" but, instead, immediately set up exclusive religious states that reproduced the intolerance and oppression that drove them here in the first place. Roger Williams, who was temporarily a Baptist, was banished by the state of Massachusetts for his support of separation of church and state, prompting him to found Rhode Island Colony as a place that guaranteed religious liberty.