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Posted: 4/29/2011 9:53:12 AM EDT

AS RHODE Island prepares to celebrate the 350th anniversary of an
extraordinary American document, its author remains all but forgotten.
In the summer of 1663, against seemingly insurmountable odds, an
improbable patriot living in an unlikely place changed the course of
world civilization.

Through Rhode Island’s King Charles II
Charter, Dr. John Clarke convinced the king to grant religious
toleration and separation of church and state to a political entity, the
diminutive Colony of Rhode Island. For the first time in world history,
religious freedom became fundamental to democracy. The Charter’s words
soon enriched other colonial charters and eventually found their way
into the writings of James Madison, architect of America’s founding
documents. The 20th-century historian Thomas Bicknell wrote of religious
freedom, "Its clear, full, deliberate, organized, and permanent
establishment in the world can now be distinctly traced to the Colony of
Rhode Island … under the leadership and inspiration of Dr. John Clarke,
the true founder.’’

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