Women’s History Month   

Survey any Who’s Who of religious leaders and prophets and you will find the roster predominantly male—Jesus, Moses, Muhammed, Buddha, et al. Moreover, certain religions—among them Roman Catholicism and Orthodox Judaism—forbid women to lead the faithful as spiritual shepherds. In contrast, others, such as several evangelical denominations, have recently left the door ajar to allow female ministers entry. Yet, by a ratio of 60% to 47%, women are more religious than men. And it is women who have frequently carried the torch of religious freedom into the darkness of intolerance and bigotry, often at the risk of lives and reputation.

Women’s History Month allows us to remember those who dared shine that light.

v"Anne Hutchinson Preaching in Her House in Boston," from Harper's Weekly, February 1901. (Library of Congress)
“Anne Hutchinson Preaching in Her House in Boston,” from Harper's Weekly, February 1901. (Library of Congress)

Anne Hutchinson was a caring mother to 15 children, a teacher and a spiritual leader in her community, but placed on trial by the Puritan theocracy that was the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1638 for daring to espouse religious liberty and for her blasphemous presumption that any pious person—not just clergy—could have a personal relationship with God. Imprisoned while in her 16th pregnancy and weakened and ill from lack of care and nourishment, she nevertheless stood tall before the biased court and famously said,” [N]ow having seen him which is invisible I fear not what man can do unto me."

Anne Hutchinson was found guilty of heresy and expelled “as a Leper” from the Colony. She was forced to travel on foot for six days in the bitter New England winter from Boston to sanctuary in Roger Williams’ settlement in Providence, Rhode Island. Though her accusers gloated over her suffering—calling it God’s judgment—her sacrifice on behalf of religious freedom profoundly influenced America’s founders and resounds to this day.

In 1922, a statue of Hutchinson placed in front of Boston’s State House proclaimed her a “Courageous exponent of civil liberty and religious toleration.” In 1987, 350 years after her expulsion, Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis pardoned her in recognition of her trail-blazing efforts for religious freedom. Then, in 1994, she was inducted into the Women’s Hall of Fame as a model for others to live by her credo: “As I understand it, laws, commands, rules and edicts are for those who have not the light which makes plain the pathway.”

Her descendants include Presidents Franklin Roosevelt, George H. W. Bush and George W. Bush, presidential aspirants Stephen A. Douglas and George and Mitt Romney, Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes and actor Ted Danson.

Anne Hutchinson was not alone. There have been many women who likewise dedicated their lives or sacrificed them for the cause of religious freedom who remain unknown and unsung, save for a parenthetical line in a history book or essay. Search for Esther White and Martha Kimball, for example, and you won’t find much beyond the single line that they were colonial American Baptist leaders who were whipped, fined or jailed for their beliefs.

In our own time, others—possibly by design—maintain a low public profile. In Nigeria, “Fatima” was first pleased to be selected to serve alongside other women on a steering committee in Jos to end religious violence and promote dialogue. But then, when the women found themselves excluded with no say on the issues, she took matters into her own hands. She and the other women went directly into the communities and coaxed Christian and Muslim extremists to lay down their weapons and talk.

Fatima has continued her work, courageously confronting age-old hatreds, teaching communities how to respond to overt religious bigotry and, as a result, diffusing tensions and resolving violent conflicts before they begin.

In Syria, three women, “Asma” and “Houda”—teachers of the Quran and religious educators—and “Hind”—a lay Christian leader, sprang into action when community members reached out to them. A militia fighting the Assad regime had rounded up and detained several Christians and a priest. The women found community leaders with influence and used their networks to contact the militia leaders and sit them down at the mediation table. After two weeks of talks, they were able to bring about the safe release of the detainees, successfully defending their freedom of religion.

Reporting on the successful negotiations, Palwasha L. Kakar, interim director for religion and inclusive societies at the U.S. Institute of Peace, noted, “This negotiation advanced freedom of religion without legal or social change but through efforts to mitigate and prevent violence.”

Freedom of religion means freedom to practice faith without fear. But to achieve that freedom, one must often be fearless enough to confront intractable forces that block one’ path. Women like Anne Hutchinson, Esther White and Martha Kimball fought despite their fears. They set the example for today’s Fatimas, Asmas, Houdas and Hinds, who courageously confront hate and bigotry so that others may safely live their beliefs.

This Women’s History Month, we applaud these women and so many others—known and unknown —past and present—through whose courage and persistence the narrow, debris-strewn path to freedom of faith may finally become a highway for us all.


From its beginnings, the Church of Scientology has recognized that freedom of religion is a fundamental human right. In a world where conflicts are often traceable to intolerance of others’ religious beliefs and practices, the Church has, for more than 50 years, made the preservation of religious liberty an overriding concern.

The Church publishes this blog to help create a better understanding of the freedom of religion and belief and provide news on religious freedom and issues affecting this freedom around the world.

The Founder of the Scientology religion is L. Ron Hubbard and Mr. David Miscavige is the religion’s ecclesiastical leader.

For more information, visit the Scientology website or Scientology Network

Women’s History Month Anne Hutchinson