Friday, January 9, 2015

Rights in Connecticut

At the time that Connecticut ratified the Constitution on January 9, 1788, the fifth state of the United States was not particularly welcoming to Jews or anyone else who was not Protestant.

The colony of Connecticut was established in 1636 specifically as a Puritan settlement. The colony’s royal charter established the Puritan faith as the official religion, although by 1708 they agreed to tolerate Anglicans, Quakers and Baptists. The charter officially denied Jews the right to build synagogues, gather for worship or build a cemetery. Individually, Jews could not vote or hold public office. Nevertheless, Jews did settle in the colony, although the only ones on record are those listed for being in trouble with the law (quite possibly because they were Jews).

As part of New England, Connecticut was at the heart of the American Revolution. At that time, there were small communities in Branford, Hartford, New Haven, Norwalk, Stamford and Woodstock.  Despite the colony’s hostility toward Jews, Jew settled in Connecticut. In fact, Hartford’s State Street was referred to as “Jews Street.”

Although Article VI of the U.S.  Constitution prohibits any sort of religious test for Federal office, not all of the states accepted the same standard when they joined the union. Connecticut did not permit Jews to vote or hold public office until 1818. The new state constitution that finally granted these rights also proclaimed a general freedom of religion for all the state’s citizens.

With the influx of German Jews in the mid-nineteenth century - particularly in Hartford - restrictions against Jews congregating was no longer deemed acceptable. In 1843, the Connecticut General Assembly received a petition on behalf of the growing Jewish community, which led to the passage of Chapter 39 of the Connecticut General Status, allowing Jews to have the same rights as Christians in matters of congregation. That same year, the first congregation, which eventually became Congregation Beth Israel, was established in Hartford.

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