Mary Dyer is a name that all American school children should know — one of the true heroes of religious liberty. By modern standards, Dyer was no groovy freethinker. Like many of the other Puritans who came to America seeking religious sustenance, she was a serious Bible- following Christian (hey, she named her son Mahershalalhashbaz!).
At twenty-five, she attended meetings at Anne Hutchinson’s house in Boston, where the women had the audacity to critique the weekly sermons of the local minister, accusing him of favoring the heretical doctrine of salvation by works. The local leaders believed they had clear evidence that Dyer was in the devil’s orbit: she gave birth to a horribly deformed still-born baby. When officials heard the news, they had the baby exhumed so they could catalog its features. (“It had no forehead, but over the eyes four horns, hard and sharp . . . all over the breast and back full of sharp pricks and scales. . . . It had on each foot three claws, like a young fowl, with sharp talons.”) A history book from that time concluded that the “Lord had pointed directly to their sinne” by having Mary Dyer bring forth “a very fearfull Monster.”
She later became a Quaker — which was a crime punishable by death in Massachusetts. But she kept returning over and over to “try the bloody law.” On June 1660, she was hanged on Boston common for the crime of practicing her faith.