Joe Nocera, "A Revolutionary Idea", NYT 2/24/2012:
Puritans fled to America in the 1600s because they were being persecuted in England for their hard-edged, Calvinist beliefs, and their rejection of the Anglican Church. Having one’s ears cut off for having deviationist religious beliefs was one of the lesser punishments Puritans suffered; being locked up in the Tower of London, where death was a near certainty, was not uncommon.
Yet Winthrop and the other Puritans did not arrive on the shores of Massachusetts hungering for religious freedom. Rather, Winthrop’s “city on a hill” was meant to be, in Barry’s words, “an authoritative and theocentric state,” no less tolerant of any deviation of Puritan theology than England had been toward the Puritans.
There's a lovely example of misnegation in that last sentence, though the problem in this case is strictly speaking more a matter of implication than of truth.
Were the Puritans less tolerant than the Anglicans they fled from? Maybe not; Nocera seems to think that the two groups were approximately equal (and both very low) in tolerance for the religious outlook of others.
But literally, to say that "A is no less X than B" means that the degree to which A is X is equal to or greater than the degree to which B is X. More succinctly, X(A) >= X(B). It may help to look an example like this one from the Washington Post in 2009:
… personal relationships are no less important than overhead rates in determining who gets the business.
This clearly means that the importance of personal relationships is greater than or equal to the importance of overhead rates. And it also implies that personal relationships are thereby more important than you might have expected them to be.
Or consider this quotation from the manager of a Black Sea resort, cited in the Christian Science Monitor in 1995:
… our natural surroundings are no less beautiful than the Bahamas, and in the Bahamas you can not sleep where [Stalin] used to live.
This asserts that the beauty of Yalta is at least as great as the beauty of the Bahamas. And again, it implies that the Black Sea's beauty is greater than we might stereotypically have expected.
So when Mr. Nocera's asserts that John Winthrop's Boston was "no less tolerant" than the England he fled, he's telling us that Boston's tolerance was greater than or equal to England's tolerance. Since Nocera believes that the two degrees of tolerance were about the same, this is not strictly false. But it also implies that Boston's tolerance was greater than we might have thought, which is the wrong direction for Nocera's argument.
I believe that what he wrote was undernegated, missing a needed negative element:
… Winthrop’s “city on a hill” was meant to be […] “an authoritative and theocentric state,” no less intolerant of any deviation of Puritan theology than England had been toward the Puritans.
Or maybe the problem was scalar inversion, to be fixed by changing less to more:
… Winthrop’s “city on a hill” was meant to be […] “an authoritative and theocentric state,” no more tolerant of any deviation of Puritan theology than England had been toward the Puritans.
In either case, it's a common sort of error. The combination of negation and scalar comparison pushes our poor monkey brains beyond the skills that evolution has prepared us for. (Or, if you're a student in danger of losing your faith commitment, perhaps we should say that original sin has marred the intelligent design of our semantic interpretation component.)