THE 1649 TOLERATION ACT OF MARYLAND


Governor Leonard Calvert and the Catholics arrived in Maryland on the Ark and Dove on March 25, 1634. They had a difficult time in Maryland, as religious tension in England spilled over to the American colonies. Conflict increased between Catholics and Protestants when the Puritans, at the invitation of the Calverts, settled in Providence (now Annapolis) in 1648. To prevent strife, Lord Baltimore Cecilius Calvert and the Maryland General Assembly formalized his original intent and passed the historic Toleration Act on April 21, 1649, a law to provide religious harmony among Christians. An Act Concerning Religion, which became known as The Toleration Act of Maryland, proved to be a compromise between Catholics and Protestants for toleration of Trinitarian Christian religions. The expression free exercise thereof in this Act ultimately found its way into the first Amendment of the Bill of Rights of the U. S. Constitution.


An Act Concerning Religion

Forasmuch as in a well-governed and Christian commonwealth, matters concerning religion and the honor of God ought in the first place to be taken into serious consideration and endeavored to be settled, be it therefore ordered and enacted, by the Right Honorable Cecilius, Lord Baron of Baltimore, Absolute Lord and Proprietary of this province, with the advice and consent of this General Assembly, that whatsoever Person or persons within this province and the islands thereunto belonging shall henceforth blaspheme God, that is, curse Him, or deny our Savior Jesus Christ to be the Son of God, or shall deny the Holy Trinity - the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost - or the Godhead or 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 and 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 Savior, or the holy apostles or evangelists or any of them, shall in such case for the first offense forfeit to the said Lord Proprietary and his heirs, Lords, and Proprietaries of this province the sum of 5 pounds sterling or the value thereof to be levied on the goods and chattels of every such person so offending, but in case such offender or offenders shall not then have goods and chattels sufficient for the satisfying of such a forfeiture, or that the same be not otherwise speedily satisfied, that then such offender or offenders shall be publicly whipped and be imprisoned during the pleasure of the Lord Proprietary or the lieutenant or chief governor of this province for the time being. And that every such offender or offenders shall for the second offense forfeit ten pounds sterling or the value thereof to be levied as aforesaid, or in case such offender or offenders shall not then have goods and chattels within this province sufficient for that purpose, then to be publicly and severely whipped and Imprisoned as before is expressed. And that every person or persons before mentioned offending herein the third time, shall for such third offense forfeit all his lands and goods and be forever banished and expelled out of this province.

And be it also further enacted, by the same authority, advice, and assent, that whatsoever person or persons shall from henceforth upon any occasion of offense or otherwise in a reproachful manner or way declare, call, or denominate any person or persons whatsoever inhabiting, residing, trading, or commercing within this province or within any of the ports, harbors, creeks, or havens to the same belonging, a heretic, schismatic, idolator, Puritan, independent, Presbyterian, popish priest, Jesuit, Jesuited papist, Lutheran, Calvinist, Anabaptist, Brownist, Antinomian, Barrowist, Roundhead, Separatist, or any other name or term in a reproachful manner relating to matter of religion, shall for every such offense forfeit and lose the sum of 10 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 or shall be spoken or uttered, and the other half thereof to the Lord Proprietary and his heirs, Lords, and Proprietaties of this province. But if such person or persons who shall at any time utter or speak any such reproachful words or language shall not have goods or chattels sufficient and overt within this province to be taken to satisfy the penalty aforesaid, or that the same be not speedily satisfied, that then the person or persons so offending shall be publicly whipped, and shall suffer imprisonment without bail or mainprise until he, she, or they, respectively, shall satisfy the party so offended or grieved by such reproachful language, by asking him or her, respectively, forgiveness publicly for such offense before the magistrate or chief officer or officers of the town or place where such offense shall be given.

And be it further likewise enacted, by the authority and consent aforesaid, that every person and persons within this province that shall at any time hereafter profane the Sabbath or Lord's Day called Sunday, by frequent swearing, drunkenness, or by any uncivil or disorderly recreation, or by working on that day when absolute necessity does not require it, shall for every such first offense forfeit 2 shillings sixpence or the value thereof, and for the second offense 5 shillings sterling or the value thereof, and for the third offense and so for every time he shall offend in like manner afterward, 10 shillings sterling or the value thereof. And in case such offender and offenders shall not have sufficient goods or chattels within this province to satisfy any of the said penalties respectively hereby imposed for profaning the Sabbath or Lord's Day called Sunday as aforesaid, that in every such case the party so offending shall for the first and second offense in that kind be imprisoned till he or she shall publicly in open court before the chief commander, judge, or magistrate of that county, town, or precinct where such offense shall be committed acknowledge the scandal and offense he has in that respect given against God and the good and civil government of this province, and for the third offense and for every time thereafter shall also be publicly whipped.


And whereas the enforcing of the conscience in matters of religion has frequently fallen out to be of dangerous consequence in those commonwealths where it has been practised, and for the more quiet and peaceable government of this province, and the better to preserve mutual love and amity among the inhabitants thereof, be it, therefore, also by the Lord Proprietary, with the advice and 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, harbors, creeks, or havens thereunto belonging, professing to believe in Jesus Christ, shall from henceforth be in any way 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 in any way compelled to the belief or 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 willfully 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, within this province other than is provided for in this act, that such person or persons so offending shall be compelled to pay treble damages to the party so wronged or molested, and for every such offense shall also forfeit 20 shillings sterling in money or the value thereof, half thereof for the use of the Lord Proprietary, and his heirs, Lords, and Proprietaries of this province, and the other half for the use of the party so wronged or molested as aforesaid. Or if the party so offending shall refuse or be unable to recompense the party so wronged, or to satisfy such fine or forfeiture, then such offender shall be severely punished by public whipping and imprisonment, during the pleasure of the Lord Proprietary, or his lieutenant or chief governor of this province, for the time being without bail or mainprize.

And be it further also enacted, by the authority and consent aforesaid, that the sheriff or other officer or officers from time to time to be appointed and authorized for that purpose, of the county, town, or precinct where every particular offense in this present act contained shall happen at time to be committed and whereupon there is hereby a forfeiture, fine, or penalty imposed, shall from time to time distrain seize the goods and estate of every 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 of fending the remainder or overplus of the said goods or estate after such satisfaction so made as aforesaid.


Assented by the freemen of the Maryland General Assembly, St. Mary's City, this 21 April 1649.


Courtesy of the Maryland State Archives


Maryland
Our Christian Heritage