Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Act Concerning Religion - 1649

April 21, 1649 Today 362 years ago, the Maryland Assembly passed the Toleration Act, providing protection to Roman Catholics against Protestant harassment and discrimination, a problem which had been on the increase due to the growing power of Oliver Cromwell in England.

The Maryland Toleration Act, also known as the Act Concerning Religion, was a law mandating religious tolerance for trinitarian Christians. It created the first legal limitations on hate speech in the world and it attempted to separate church and state, a constitutional principle that would have to wait another 150 years before it became accepted practice in America.

The Act allowed freedom of worship for all trinitarian Christians in Maryland, but sentenced to death anyone who denied the divinity of Jesus. It was revoked in 1654 by William Claiborne, a Virginian who had been appointed as a commissioner by Oliver Cromwell and was a staunch advocate for the Anglican Church. When the Calverts regained control of Maryland, the Act was reinstated, before being repealed permanently in 1692 following the Glorious Revolution. As the first law on religious tolerance in the British North America, it influenced related laws in other colonies and portions of it were echoed in the writing of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, which enshrined religious freedom in American law.

Confirmed by Lord Proprietary by an Instrument under his hand & Seal dated 26
August 1650 Phil Calvert

Acts and Orders of Assembly assented unto enacted and made at a General Session of the said Assembly held at Saint Mary's on the one and twentieth day of April Anno Domini 1649 as followeth viz:

An Act concerning Religion

Forasmuch as in a well Governed and Chris-
tain Commonwealth matters Concerning Religion &
the honour of God ought in the first place to be taken
into serious Consideration and endeavoured to be settled.

Be it therefore Ordered [ordeyened] and Enacted by the right
honble Cecilius Lord Baron of Baltimore absolute Lord
and Proprietary of this Province with the advice and
Consent of the General Assembly that whatsoever Person
or Persons within this province and the Islands thereto
Belonging shall from henceforth Blaspheme God that
is Curse him or deny our Saviour Jesus Christ to be the
Son of God or shall deny the holy Trinity the Father
Son & Holy Ghost on the Godhead of any of the said
three Persons of the Trinity or the unity of the Godhead
or shall use or utter any reproachful speeches words or
Language Concerning the said holy Trinity or any of the
said three Persons thereof shall be punished with death
& Confiscation or forfeiture of all his or her lands and
Goods to the Lord Proprietary and his heirs and be it
also Enacted by the Authority and with the advice and
assent aforesaid that whatsoever Person or Persons
shall from henceforth use or utter any Reproachful words
or speeches concerning the blessed Virgin Mary the Mother
of Our Saviour the holy Apostles and Evangelist or any
of them shall in such Case for the first Offence forfeit to
the said Lord Proprietary and his heirs Lords and Proprie-
tarys of this Province the sum of five Pounds Sterling or
the Value thereof to be levied upon the Goods and Chattels
of every such Person so Offending but in case such Offen-
der or Offenders shall not then have Goods and Chattels
sufficient for the satisfying of such forfeiture or that
the sume be not [otherwise] speedily satisfied that then such Offen-
der or Offenders shall be publickly whipt and be impri-
soned during the Pleasure of the Lord Proprietary or the
Lieutenant or chief Governor of the Province for the time
being & that every such Offender or Offenders for every
Second Offence shall forfeit ten Pounds Sterling or the
Value thereof to be levied as aforesaid or in Case such Offen-
der or Offenders shall not then have Goods and Chattels
Sufficient for the satisfying of such forfeiture then to
be publickly and severely whipt and imprisoned as be-
fore is Expressed and that every Person or Persons before
mentioned offending herein the third time shall for such
third Offence forfeit all his lands and Goods and befor-
ever Banished and expelled out of this Province and
be it also further enacted by the name authority advise
and Consent that whatsoever Person or Persons shall
from henceforth upon any occasion of offence other-
wise in a reproachful manner or way declare call or
denominate any Person or persons whatsoever inhabi-
ting Residing trafficking trading or Comercing within
this Province or within any the Ports Harbours
Creeks or Havens to the same belonging an Heretick,
Schismatick, Idolator, Puritan, Independent Presbyterian
Antenomian, Barrowist, Roundhead, Seperatist, Popish
Priest, Jesuit, Jesuited Papist, Lutheran, Calvenist, Anabap
tist, Brownist or any other name or term in a reproach-
ful manner relating to matters of Religion shall for every
such Offence forfeit and Lose the sum of ten shillings
Sterling or the Value thereof to be levied on the Goods
and Chattels of every such Offender and Offenders the
One half thereof to be forfeited and paid unto the Person
and Persons of whom such reproachful words are and
shall be spoken or uttered and the other half thereof
to the Lord Proprietary and his heirs Lords and Pro
prietarys of this Province but if such Person or Persons
who shall at any time utter or speak any such re-
proachful words or language shall not have Goods &
Chattels sufficient and overt within this Province
to be taken to satisfy the Penalty aforesaid or that the
same be not otherwise speedily satisfied that then the
Person or Persons so Offending shall be publickly whipt
and shall suffer imprisonment without bail or main
prize until he she or they respectively shall satisfy the
Party so Offended or Grieved by such reproachful Lan-
guage by asking him or her respectively forgiveness pub-
lickly for such his Offences before the Magistrate or chief
Officer or Officers of the Town or Place where the Offence
shall be Given and be it further likewise enacted by
the Authority and Consent aforesaid that every Per-
son and Persons within this Province that shall at
any time hereafter prophane the Sabbath or Lords day
Called Sunday by frequent swearing drunkenness or
by any uncivill or disorderly recreation by working
on that day when absolute neccesity doth not require it
shall for every such first Offence forfeit 2s.6d sterling
or the value thereof and for the second Offence 5s sterling
or the Value thereof and for the third Offence and so for
every time he shall Offend in like manner afterwards
10s sterling or the value thereof and [in case such offender and]
Offenders shall not have sufficient Goods or Chattels
within the Province to satisfy any of the said Penalties
respectively hereby imposed for prophaning the Sabbath
or Lords day called Sunday as aforesaid that in every
such Case the Party so Offending shall for the first
and Second Offence in that kind be imprisoned till
he or she shall publickly in open Court before the chief
Commander Judge or Magistrate of that County Town
or Precinct where such offence shall be Committed acknow-
ledged the scandall and Offence he hath in that respect
Given against God and the Good and Civil Government
of this province and for the third Offence and for every
time after shall also be publickly whipt and whereas
the enforcing of the Conscience in matters of Religion hath
frequently fallen out to be of dangerous Consequence
in those Commonwealths where it hath been practised
and for the more quiet and peacable Government of this
Province and the better to preserve mutual Love and
Amity amongst the Inhabitants thereof Be it therefore
also by the Lord Proprietary with the advice & Consent
of this Assembly Ordained and enacted except as in this
present Act is before declared and set forth that no Person
or Persons whatsoever within this Province or the Islands
Ports harbours Creeks or Havens thereunto [professing] to
believe in Jesus Christ shall from henceforth be in any ways
troubled molested or discountenanced for or in respect of his
or her Religion nor in the free exercise thereof within this
Province or the Islands thereunto belonging nor any way
Compelled to the Belief for exercise of any other Religion
against his or her consent so as they be not unfaithful
to the Lord Proprietary or molest or Conspire against
the Civil Government established or to be established in
this Province under him or his heirs and that all and
every Person and persons that shall presume Contrary
to this Act and the true intent and meaning thereof
directly or indirectly either in Person or estate wilfully
to wrong disturb trouble or molest any Person whatsoever
within this province professing to Believe in Jesus Christ
for or in respect of his or her Religion or the free Exercise
thereof with this Province other than is provided for
in the Act that such Person or persons so offending shall
be compelled to pay treble damages to the party so wron-
ged or molested and for every such Offence shall forfeit
20s Sterling in money or the Value thereof half thereof
for the use of the Lord Proprietary and his heirs Lords and
Proprietarys of this Province and the other half
for the use of the Party so wronged or molested as aforesaid
and if the Party so Offending as aforesaid shall Refuse
or be unable to recompence the Party so Grieved or to satisfy
such fine or forfeiture then such offender shall be severely
[punished] by publick whipping and imprisonment during the
Pleasure of the Lord Proprietary or his Lieutenant or other
Governor of this Province for the time being without Bail
or Mainprize and be it also further enacted by the autho-
rity and Consent aforesaid that the Sheriff or other Offi-
cer or Officers to be from time to time authorized and appoin-
ted for that purpose of the County town or Precinct where
Every particular offence in this present act contained
shall happen at any time to be Committed and whereupon
there is hereby a forfeiture fine or penalty imposed shall
from time to time distrain and seize the Goods and estate
of every such Person so offending as aforesaid against this
present Act or any part thereof and sell the same or any
Part thereof for the full Satisfaction of such Forfeiture fine
or Penalty as aforesaid Restoring unto the party so offen-
ding the Remainder or Overplus of the said Goods or estate
after such a satisfaction so made as aforesaid

The Freemen have assented: Tho Hatton
Enacted by the Governor William Stone


Source: An Act Concerning Religion, 1649, April 21.
GENERAL ASSEMBLY, UPPER HOUSE (Proceedings) MSA S 977-1, f. 354.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

so it mandated the death penalty for non-believers, but was considered an act of tolerance?