PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) — Rhode Island is celebrating the 350th anniversary of its colonial charter by giving the influential document new digs in the Statehouse.
Gov. Lincoln Chafee and Secretary of State Ralph Mollis announced Wednesday that the document will be displayed in a new one-room ‘‘pocket museum’’ set to open in the Statehouse in June. The 1663 royal charter is now displayed in a metal vault outside the state Senate chambers, where its ink is still easily read by Statehouse visitors. The new display will incorporate modern preservation and climate control methods to safeguard the document.
The charter was one of the first documents in modern history to set out the principal of religious freedom.
‘‘In 1663, before Massachusetts, before Philadelphia or anywhere else, Rhode Island became the cradle of liberty,’’ said Chafee, an independent. He said he hopes the commemoration of the anniversary will spur school children and adults alike to consider how the state’s past remains relevant today.
The state plans a series of events to highlight the charter’s role in state and U.S. history, including a June 22 Statehouse gala and an Aug. 20 forum on the charter featuring U.S. Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan.
A commission overseeing the charter anniversary is also developing curriculum for elementary and high school history and social studies classes.
Chafee and Mollis announced the anniversary activities alongside men dressed in colonial militia uniforms, other state leaders and Susie Kitchens, British Consul General for New England. Kitchens extended greetings from the British government to its former colony and said ‘‘We look forward to celebrating and honoring the 350 years of the charter,’’ she said.
The charter was obtained from England’s King Charles II in 1663. It guaranteed religious liberty in Rhode Island, setting a precedent that was echoed in laws when the United States of America was established. A second copy of the charter was created and transported to Rhode Island in a separate ship — in case either vessel was lost — and is held in the collections of the Rhode Island Historical Society.
‘‘It was a radical, radical idea 350 years ago,’’ said Democratic U.S. Rep. David Cicilline, who attended Wednesday’s Statehouse event. ‘‘In many ways Rhode Island helped write the history of the world.’’