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Syndi Holmes

Religious Liberty?
By Syndi Holmes
Feb 20, 2005 - 7:29:00 PM

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In response to J. Grant Swank's article on the Mayflower Compact & God, one must point out the Puritans' intolerance of anyone who did not hold to their beliefs. While they sought religious freedom, Puritans strictly limited that option only to themselves.

Well known is Roger Williams and the founding of Rhode Island. Williams espoused Puritanism and emigrated to the Massachusetts Bay colony in 1631. However, he also came to espouse the tenets of democracy and the "absolute liberty of conscience" in religious matters. In doing this he so alarmed the Puritan oligarchy that the General Court banished him in 1635, and so Williams went on to found Providence, which later became part of the new colony of Rhode Island in 1644.

Maryland was the first colony that allowed freedom of religion-and the Puritans went to Maryland and tried to destroy that freedom.

Maryland was the concept of George Calvert, who was James I's First Secretary - and when he converted to the Roman Catholic faith, he could no longer hold an office of state in England. As Calvert had been a loyal and respected servant servant of the Crown, King James made him Lord Baltimore, and with the wealth of his Irish lands Calvert could afford to become involved with colonising the New World.

Maryland was the first colony established under the English proprietary governments in 1634. The colony is most notable in American history as the first in which religious toleration had a place. It was a colony where Catholics would not be persecuted, even though Maryland was overwhelmingly Protestant.

In 1645, an English Puritan and associate of Oliver Cromwell, Captain Richard Ingle, arrived in Maryland in the ship Reformation. He invaded Maryland, overthrew Lord Baltimore's government and set up Parliamentarian rule. In England, Lord Baltimore negotiated with the Puritans, and by 1649 he was on reasonable terms with them and regained his colony grant. He appointed a Protestant governor, William Stone, and brought Protestants into the ruling council.

In 1649, the Toleration Act in Maryland was enacted. By this act, the toleration of all Christian sects, a privilege that the people had enjoyed in practice since the founding of the colony, was recognized by law (except for Jews and Unitarians who did not get full political rights in Maryland until 1826).

In the early 1650's, 400 Puritans who were unhappy with the political situation in Virginia decided to move to Maryland for the "religious freedom" granted to them by the Toleration Act. They then found that they were also unhappy with Lord Baltimore's government and appealed to Cromwell for "help". Cromwell's Commissioners came to Maryland from England in 1652, and helped their fellow Puritans replace Baltimore's government, under the leadership of the Anglican Governor William Stone, with Puritan rule. The Puritans then suspended the Toleration Act and passed their own laws against "popery, prelacy, and licentiousness of opinion". Baptists and Quakers, as well as Catholics and Episcopalians, were denied religious liberty. They basically tolerated "everybody except Catholics, Episcopalians, and anybody who disagreed with them."

In 1655, the Battle of the Severn was fought between the followers of the ousted Gov. Stone and the Puritans. Gov. Stone was defeated and the Puritans continued to govern Maryland until 1658 when Oliver Cromwell actually had the Toleration Act restored and the Puritan domination was finally ended.

If this is the history- a legacy of intolerance, exclusion and repression- that is being held up as the American ideal of Christianity, then I must reject it, for it flies in the face of the teachings of Christ, who taught us charity and love, who even healed Gentiles and defied the hypocrisy of the Pharisees.

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