America’s Uneven Legacy of Religious Freedom

"Maryland provides the fascinating exception that proves the rule. Founded by a small group of Catholics in the 1630s, Maryland grew increasingly tolerant of all Christian (and non-Christian) sects throughout the 1630s, 1640s, and 1650s. It did so, however, through a tradeoff. The colony could not recognize freedom of religious worship with freedom of speech and privileged the former against the latter. By 1649, the colony of Maryland possessed, arguably, the most tolerant attitude anywhere in the modern world regarding religion. Any person—as a resident or as a sojourner—enjoyed complete and utter religious freedom to choose or not choose as one saw fit. (N.B. If any other place in the world—in Western or Eastern civilization—so lovingly protected religious freedom, I have yet to identify it.) As a way to protect religious freedom in the April 21, 1649 “Act of Toleration,” the colony also passed a number of speech codes and restrictions. First, no person could publicly in any way, shape, or form denigrate the name, the essence, or the attributes of God in His monotheistic and Trinitarian forms. Second, no person could publicly mock the Blessed Virgin Mary or any of the twelve apostles, with the exception, of course, of Judas."