- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 12, 2005

Myth-making over 350 years continues to becloud most discussions of Colonial Maryland’s place in the vanguard of religious liberty.

A case in point is Philip Kopper’s review on the new book by John D. Krugler, “English and Catholic: The Lords Baltimore in the Seventeenth Century.” (March 6, Page B6).

Mr. Kopper, by way of “full disclosure,” notes that he and Mr. Krugler are, respectively, past and present governing board members of the Maryland state museum at historic St. Mary’s City. Do visitors to that museum get to read the text of the Colony’s 1649 “Act Concerning Religion”? If read carefully and with comprehension, the text would raise eyebrows.

Mr. Kopper’s assertions in his review are unavoidably revealed as vainglorious boasts. The so-called Toleration Act (a revisionist label) did not make Colonial Maryland “the first to separate church from state, and the first anywhere to grant its citizens religious liberty.” In truth, the law was a capital punishment act, a religious establishment act, a Sabbath-observance law, and a speech code, all rolled into one.

The act began by decreeing that blasphemy against Jesus Christ as “the sonne of God … or [denial of] the holy Trinity the father sonne and holy Ghost … or the Unity of the Godhead” were punishable by “death and confiscation of forfeiture of all [the offender’s] lands and goods to the Lord Proprietary and his heirs.” Next was a clause providing fines, whippings, imprisonment, or banishment for disrespect to the Virgin Mary or the apostles.

Toleration was extended only to persons “professing to believe in Jesus Christ.” The “inforcing of conscience in matters of religion” was vaguely deplored and Protestants and Catholics were forbidden to call each other vile names such as heretic, schismatic, idolater, or popish priest.

Years later, a man known as “ye Jewish doctor Jacob Lumbrozo” faced death on a blasphemy charge. His trial was never completed because the incoming Lord Protector of England, Richard Cromwell, proclaimed a general amnesty. Lumbrozo was let out of jail along with all manner of other prisoners under the amnesty. He was not “acquitted,” as has been falsely reported by spin doctors. The theocratic law remained on the books.

Conclusion: The boastful claims about toleration in Maryland’s early days need to be toned down. Messrs. Krugler and Kopper, please take note.

STAN LICHTENSTEIN

Bethesda, Md.

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