All About Chautauquas…

In addition to clarifying the nature and history of Chautauquas in the United States,  scroll down this page to an important article on the issue of freedom of religion and Bay View’s history as a Chautauqua:

Religious Liberty:  Bay View’s American and True Heritage by Arthur I. Anderson.

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Q: What is a Chautauqua?
The Chautauqua movement began at Lake Chautauqua, New York in 1874 as a summer retreat for Sunday School teachers. From the first year onward, the Chautauqua idea was all-denominational and blended study and recreation in a pastoral setting. It broadened almost immediately to include academic subjects, music, art, humanities and physical education. By 1880 the Chautauqua platform had established itself as a national forum for open discussion of public issues, literature, and science. Soon after the founding of the original Chautauqua in New York, numerous independent Chautauqua assemblies were established throughout the country, based on the ideals of the original. Bay View is one of the earliest communities established as part of this national movement.

 Q: Are religion and Chautauqua principles compatible?
Yes. In fact, virtually all Chautauqua communities were founded by clergy and lay religious leaders, and religion continues to be a central focus in most present-day Chautauqua communities. Regardless of individual faith traditions, those open to religious diversity and spiritual inquiry feel very much at home in the Chautauqua setting.

Q: Is the Chautauqua movement secular?
No…and yes. The Chautauqua idea sprang from the hearts and minds of 19th century Americans for whom religion was a central reality of life. That early foundation remains firmly in place as one of the so-called “Four Pillars” of the Chautauqua experience. The three remaining Chautauqua pillars—Art, Recreation and Education—may be considered “secular” to the extent that they are non-religious in focus. [Cover from an early Bay View Chautauqua book club magazine]

Q: Are Chautauquas open to all?
Chautauqua programs have traditionally been open to all without regard to gender, race or religion. This policy also applies to property ownership. Exceptions include the Bay View Chautauqua, which enforces religious restrictions for property ownership based on bylaw changes enacted in the late 1940’s.

Q: Can a Chautauqua be a church?
No. Churches rest on a particular set of religious creeds or doctrines, a purpose at odds with Chautauqua ideals of inclusiveness, religious pluralism and intellectual inquiry. Though religion stands as one of four Chautauqua pillars, no Chautauqua community is defined or operated as a church.

Q: What is the Chautauqua Network?
Bay View belongs to the Chautauqua Network, a group of organizations and individuals committed to the communication and implementation of the Chautauqua concept of building community by supporting all persons in the development of their full potential—intellectually, spiritually, emotionally and physically. The Chautauqua Network facilitates interaction and communication among its members to further their preservation, growth and development.

Q: What is the Chautauqua Trail?
The Chautauqua Trail is a cultural heritage trail linking Chautauqua sites across the U.S. and Canada. It is part of an initiative launched by the Chautauqua Network to promote the 21st century Chautauqua Movement. Chautauquas pioneered the concept of life-long learning over a century ago. This collective experience, combined with the explosive growth of cultural-heritage tourism, have heightened interest in Chautauquas as more and more North Americans seek to improve their lives through life-long learning.

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Religious Liberty: Bay View’s American and True Heritage

By Arthur I. Anderson 1

As much as we like to think of Jesus as a welcoming figure and Christianity as a welcoming religion, there have been many periods dating back to the early days of the faith that have featured religiously motivated discrimination, persecution and violence by Christians against fellow Christians and by Christians against non-Christians. British colonial America inherited such a legacy of discrimination, persecution and violence from a Europe that was still being rocked by the aftershocks from the Protestant Reformation and the Catholic Counterreformation, a period that University of Michigan historian, Dr. Susan Jester, calls one of the “darkest in human history”.2

That legacy was at its peak in what would become the United States in the 17th century but it continued into the 18th century and beyond. Massachusetts was at the forefront of this dark era of American Christianity with 17th century Puritans lashing, branding, dismembering and hanging heretical Quakers, hanging alleged devil-worshipping witches and massacring Native American women and children who were seen as agents of the devil.3

In 1637, Puritans would burn hundreds of old men, women and children alive at a fortified village during the Pequot War. The massacre effectively won the war, and the Puritans would sell captured Pequots into slavery.4 Captain John Mason who led the attack attributed his success to a mirthful Christian God. In his A Brief History of the Pequot War, Mason reports:
“But GOD was above them, who laughed [at] his Enemies…, making them as a fiery Oven: …Thus did the LORD judge among the Heathen, filling the Place with dead Bodies!”5

Christian infighting was not invented in the 16th and 17th centuries. As Charles Freeman points out, the first Christian Emperor Constantine felt obliged to intervene in the vicious infighting between Christian factions involving Donatists in north Africa and Arians in the eastern half of the empire.6 As reported by Ammianus Marcellinus., a 4th century CE Roman historian, the last pagan Roman Emperor Julian declared “that no wild beasts are such enemies to mankind as are most of the Christians in their deadly hatred of one another.”7

Washington, Jefferson and Madison were well aware of Christianity’s legacy of discrimination, persecution and violence. Gary Scott Smith has the following quotes from Washington and Madison:

Washington
“Of all human animosities, Washington wrote to a friend in 1792, those caused by differences in religion were ‘the most inveterate and distressing.’ He hoped that the present age’s ‘enlightened and liberal policy’ would enable Christians to never carry their religious disputes ‘to such a pitch as to endanger the peace of Society.’”8

Madison
“Torrents of blood have been spilt in the old world,” Madison maintained, “by vain attempts” of governments “to extinguish religious discord.”9

Steven K. Green has the following quotes from Jefferson and Madison:

Jefferson
“Millions of innocent men, women, and children, since the introduction of Christianity have been burnt, tortured, fined [and] imprisoned [in attempts to enforce uniformity of beliefs among Christians].”10

Madison
“Writing in Federalist 10, James Madison noted how ‘zeal for different opinions concerning religion’ had ‘divided mankind into parties, inflamed them with mutual animosity, and rendered then much more disposed to vex and oppress each other than to cooperate for their common good.’”11

Smith reports that: “The Anglican Church’s persecution of Baptists and Presbyterians in pre-revolutionary Virginia powerfully affected Madison’s views of religious liberty. Between 1768 and 1776, the colony jailed about fifty dissenters for preaching without a license or overstepping the boundaries for ministry it imposed. As a youth, Madison was deeply impacted by listening to several Baptist pastors in the village of Orange, who were incarcerated because of their religious views and practices, preach through the windows of their jail cell to a small band of followers.”12

The 1786 Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom, the 1787 Northwest Ordinance and the 1789 First Amendment to the US Constitution (officially adopted in 1791) all demonstrate the founders’ dedication to ending religious discrimination, persecution and violence in the newly independent nation. Here are excerpts from each.

Virginia Statue of Religious Freedom
“[A]ll men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of Religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge or affect their civil capacities.”

Northwest Ordinance Section 14, Article I
“No person, demeaning himself in a peaceable and orderly manner, shall ever be molested on account of his mode of worship or religious sentiments, in the said territory.”

First Amendment, U.S. Constitution
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;”

The Michigan Constitution has similar language prohibiting religious discrimination.

Michigan Constitution, Art. I, § 4.
“The civil and political rights, privileges and capacities of no person shall be diminished or enlarged on account of his religious belief.”

Although the founders were well aware of America’s Christian legacy of discrimination, persecution and violence, the Northwest Ordinance in particular would acknowledge the importance of “religion, morality and knowledge” in the role of “good government” and human “happiness”- but without singling out Christianity for special treatment as a favored religion.

Northwest Ordinance, Section 14, Art. 3.
“Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.”

The Michigan Constitution, the 1889 Summer Resort and Assembly Associations Act- under which Bay View was reincorporated in 1890– and Bay View’s original 1890’s Articles of Association also express similar views on the importance of religion and morality without elevating Christianity over other faiths. The Michigan Constitution quotes the Northwest Ordinance language verbatim.

Michigan Constitution, Art. VIII, § 1.
“Religion, morality and knowledge being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.

1889 Summer Resort and Assembly Associations Act
The purposes for which an 1889 corporation may be formed expressly include “the promotion of religion and morality” without mentioning Christianity.

Bay View’s 1890 Articles of Association
The purposes clause in Bay View’s 1890 Articles also expressly included “the promotion of religion and morality” without mentioning Christianity.

Bay View had an exemplary record of religious toleration and nondiscrimination from its founding in 1875 until the early 1940s. Consistent with the vision of America’s founders and the language of the Northwest Ordinance, the First Amendment and the Michigan Constitution, no one was denied cottage ownership — or the civil right to own property in Bay View — on the basis of their religious beliefs.

Beginning in the 1940s Bay View’s Christians only and, for a time, Whites only membership and cottage ownership policy can be seen as a throwback to a darker time in America’s Christian religious history. Bay View’s 10% limitation on Catholic membership—abandoned sometime in the 1980’s—can also be seen as part of that sad legacy. In 1945, Bay View’s Articles of Association were amended to insert the word “Christian” in front of religion and morality in Bay View’s purposes clause in violation of the express language of MCL 455.91 applicable to 1889 Summer Resort and Assembly Associations like Bay View. MCL 455.91 provides that Summer Resort Assembly Associations may amend their Articles of Association “Provided always, That no such amendment shall change the general purpose for which such corporation was formed.” (bold italics added).

Shelley v Kraemer US Supreme Court Opinion
While Bay View was backsliding on religious and racial discrimination, the U.S. Supreme Court in 1948 would issue its landmark Shelley v Kraemer13 decision that closed a loophole in the law that allowed private parties involved in a real estate transaction to include racially and religiously based restrictive covenants in their legal documentation. The Shelley v. Kraemer opinion holds that that racially based restrictive covenants cannot be enforced by the courts. The opinion is also precedent for barring the enforcement of religiously based restrictive covenants.

Federal Fair Housing Act, Michigan Elliot Larsen Act.
Congress and the Michigan legislature have further buttressed the founders’ vision of an America free from religious discrimination, persecution and violence with the passage of the federal Fair Housing Act in 1968 and the Michigan Elliot Larsen Act in 1976. Both statutes expressly prohibit the religious discrimination in housing that was introduced in Bay View in the 1940s.

Endnotes

  1. I have been licensed to practice law in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts since 1978. This article is not a formal legal opinion but rather represents my best judgments on the matters addressed based on my forty plus years of legal practice.  
  2. Juster, S. (2016). Sacred Violence in Early America. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 12.
  3. Juster, 2016, 1, 44, 55-56.
  4. For an historical analysis of Pequot enslavement, see Michael L. Fickes, “‘They Could Not Endure That Yoke’: The Captivity of Pequot Women and Children after the War of 1637,” New England Quarterly, vol. 73, no. 1. (Mar., 2000), 58-81; Ethel Boissevain, “Whatever Became of the New England Indians Shipped to Bermuda to be Sold as Slaves,” Man in the Northwest 11 (Spring 1981), 103-114; and Karen O. Kupperman, Providence Island, 1630-1641: The Other Puritan Colony (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993), 172.
  5. John Mason. A Brief History of the Pequot War: Especially of the Memorable taking of their Fort at Mistick in Connecticut in 1637/Written by Major John Mason, a principal actor therein, as then chief captain and commander of Connecticut forces; With an introduction and some explanatory notes by the Reverend Mr. Thomas Prince (Boston: Printed & sold by. S. Kneeland & T. Green in Queen Street, 1736), 9. On line edition http://digitalcommons.unl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1042&context=etas.
  6. Freeman, C. (2014). Egypt, Greece, and Rome. Oxford: Oxford University Press. See Chapters 32 and 33, Constantine and His Successors and The Christian Emperor.
  7. Ammianus Marcellinus. History, Volume III: Books 27-31. Excerpta Valesiana. Translated by J. C. Rolfe. Loeb Classical Library 331. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1939, 203.
  8. Smith, G. (2006). Faith and the Presidency: From George Washington to George W. Bush. Oxford: Oxford University Press, USA, 48.
  9. Smith, G. (2015). Religion in the oval office: The religious lives of American presidents. United Kingdom: Oxford University Press, 70.
  10. Green, S. (2015). Inventing a Christian America. New York: Oxford University Press, 55.
  11. Green, 2015, 188.
  12. Smith, 2015, 66.
  13. 334 U.S. 1 (1948).

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