“An Act Concerning Religion.” That was the original title of what is colloquially known as the “Maryland Toleration Act of 1649,” the same year in which King Charles I (known by many Anglicans of an Anglo-Catholic and Royalist bent as King Charles the Martyr, or simply The Royal Martyr) was shamefully executed in an act of regicide by the so-called “Rump Parliament,” under the despicable Oliver Cromwell.
An attempt (only partly successful) to assure protection for Catholics in the proprietary Colony of Maryland in the wake of this act of regicide and England’s subsequent interregnum under the Puritan Parliament, later Protectorate, the Act – passed by the General Assembly of the Maryland Colony – sought to provide equal protection under law for all Trinitarian Christians, and at the same time, provide legal protection for Trinitarian Christianity (*) itself.
As such, it might, in retrospect, have been a better model (with some adjustments, discussed below) for our national view on the subject than the relevant clause of the First Amendment, which has since been stretched beyond all intention of the Founders, through what I cannot help but see as a perverse and willful misconstrual of Jefferson’s “wall of separation” comment. That appeared in a letter to the Danbury, Connecticut, Baptists, and was originally intended to assure religious people of their protection from the government, not the other way ’round.
The full text of the Maryland Toleration Act, in the original (rather archaic) form of English in which it was originally written, appears below. Its most salient section is reproduced here, in slightly updated language:
“That whatsoever person or persons within this Province and the Islands thereunto belonging shall from henceforth blaspheme God, that is Curse him, or deny our Saviour Jesus Christ to be the Son of God, or shall deny the holy Trinity [to be] the Father, the Son and Holy Ghost, or [who shall deny] the Godhead of 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 [yes, it really does say that!] and confiscation or forfeiture of all his or her lands and goods to the Lord Proprietary and his heirs.”
In other words, anyone who publicly blasphemes or denies either the Doctrine of the Holy Trinity (*) or any portion thereof is to suffer both the death penalty, himself, and the seizure of his property and assets! There is also a clause prohibiting, basically, “talking smack” about a) the beliefs and practices of any particular branch of Christianity, or b) insulting practitioners of any form of Christianity not one’s own.
In other words, to put it in relatively simple and modern terms, you will not publicly denigrate Christianity, Christians, or Christian doctrine, and you will – at least publicly – be nice to other Christians. It is, frankly, hard for me to argue with either of those.
[The Act also includes a section prohibiting the profanation of the Christian Sabbath (Sunday, a.k.a. the Lord’s Day) “by frequent swearing, drunkenness or by any uncivil or disorderly recreation, or by working on that day when absolute necessity doth not require it.” I am old enough to remember the days of the “Blue Laws,” as they were called, when most places of business were closed on Sundays and other restrictions on secular activities (including sales of alcohol) were in place; and although at the time, I found it frustrating, as I have gotten older – and hopefully, more mature – I have come to realize the wisdom, both spiritually and practically, of keeping the Sabbath as a day of rest.]
Now, mind you, I am not suggesting the death penalty for anyone who fails to hold to or publicly confess the Trinitarian Christian faith! Not at all. In particular, what people believe in private is precisely that: private, and it is not the business of government to be snooping behind closed doors.
But under this system, you are not allowed to publicly assert that Christianity is a crock of bull, whatever your private opinions may be, and you must accept the basically Christian character of the society of which you are a member, if you wish to remain a member of that society. That seems entirely reasonable to me. Continue reading ““An Act Concerning Religion””