America was founded on religion, and the same currents that encouraged the Puritans to flee their homeland to escape persecution ran through the Revolution and into the states and their constitutions. The Crown imposed the imperialistic Church of England on the American colonies during its reign. In the aftermath of the colonies’ revolt, American citizens embraced most protestant denominations and witnessed a mass exodus from the Church of England. Born from their distaste for the old ways of conducting religion, South Carolina explicitly declared in its constitution of 1778 that the Protestant faith would serve as the state’s guide for its religious needs.
Constitutionally, the Protestant Church held a monopoly over South Carolina. Any denomination of Protestantism was granted full and equal religious and civil rights in the state, setting the groundwork for future collective religious freedom. Additionally, any man wishing to sit in the Senate or the House of Representatives was required to be a practicing Protestant, negating any notion of the separation between church and state. Though any previously existing entities belonging to the Church of England were granted rights to their land and the privilege to continue practicing, the state constitution did not allow for further expansion of said church, stifling their religious freedoms.
The Protestant religion offered the colonists several benefits that they were not accustomed to under the reign of the Church of England. Primarily, Protestantism encouraged multiple denominations to thrive, each one unique in its own right. This variation provided worshipers with the choice to practice as they saw fit (within the constraints of the Christian faith). Additionally, the Protestant Church was not monarchial in its structure as the Church of England was. There was simply a leader of worship and a congregation who all functioned together in a communal manner; the church was not invariably tied to the government with the head monarch serving as the Supreme Governor and several archbishops, bishops and deans of cathedrals serving their constituents only from afar. The move towards Protestantism was a direct rejection of the divine right of kings and a step towards a simpler, more collective vision of religion.
Furthermore, though the intended effect of an official statewide religion in South Carolina was not aimed to address slaves, freed or otherwise, it did so indirectly. The Protestant church was in part able to gain momentum through the mass appeal evangelical churches, such as Baptist and Methodist congregations, offered their black constituents. Many church leaders in Protestant denominations preached that all Christians were equal in the eyes of the Lord, which offered new hope to the downtrodden and exploited slaves. Additionally, several churches mandated the attendance of slaves in fear that independent worship would promote unity in the form of rebellion.
The Protestant religious mandate of South Carolina distanced the colonists from their English oppressors on a new plane. Culture in the eighteenth century was centered on religion and the belief systems people carried out in their daily lives. In severing ties with the Church of England and establishing the evangelical Protestant faith on a statewide level, South Carolina created a new standard of life for its citizens. Religion continued to be intertwined with politics, but now the notion of religion was far freer within the bounds of Protestant Christianity. One could practice under countless denominations and carry on a personal relationship with their local minister, and even slaves were encouraged to participate in this previously exclusive facet of society. Though complete freedom of religion still remained out of reach, enacting the Protestant directive offered more religious freedom to the South Carolinians than they were accustomed to.