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Religious Freedom In The 1600s

circa 1950: Visitors viewing the Plymouth Rock enshrined in a Grecian Temple by the Colonial Dames in 1920. The rock is supposed to be where the first American settlers landed. (Photo by Douglas Grundy/Three Lions/Getty Images)

“…no person or persons…professing to believe in Jesus Christ, shall from henceforth be anyways troubled, Molested or discountenanced for or in respect of his or her religion nor in the free exercise thereof within this Province…” —Maryland Toleration Act, 1649

The Maryland Toleration Act of 1649

It’s been said that the two things you never want to bring into any conversation are politics and religion. Feelings and opinions run deep on both topics. The early colonists were also faced with challenges of religious intolerance.

Early settlers did not tolerate blaspheme or the denouncing of the Trinity, or the divinity of Jesus Christ. The penalty for such actions was death and/or the seizure of the individual’s property.

Strict adherence to Trinitarian Christianity meant that Jews, Unitarians, and others risked their very lives to practice their beliefs during these times. You could be whipped, jailed or fined for insulting the Virgin Mary, the apostles or any evangelist.

Religious slurs and insults used against non-believers such as, “heretic,” were common terms of the day. The Maryland Toleration Act was probably the first attempt in the world to outlaw hate speech.

The Trial of Jacob Lumbrozo

Jacob Lumbrozo, a Jew, was accused of saying Jesus was not the Son of God and the New Testament miracles described therein were just parlor tricks. Lumbrozo admitted saying these things in response to questions he was asked. He was put to trial but the charges were later dismissed.

The Church of England

Many Puritans as the time were concerned that if Catholics were giving religious freedom that the Pope, who many considered the antichrist, could eventually rise to power. Catholics were a minority and suffered persecution by the majority.

Many Anglicans also opposed the act and favored instating the Church of England as the only established church of the colonies.

Some Final Thoughts

It’s difficult to comprehend such a level of religious persecution and intolleane existed in America. People put to death if their beliefs differ from the status quo. How is that even possible?

The real strength of America has always been its adaptability to social needs. Slavery was abolished. Women vote. Civil Rights Acts of 1866, 1875, 1957, 1960, 1964, 1965, and 1991.

Building on the past the founding fathers very first amendment to the Constitution gave all American’s the freedom to discuss politics and religion without going on trial or risk execution. I guess we truly are the land of the free and the home of the brave.

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