I have heard that Maryland was the birthplace of religious freedom in the US because it was founded by a charter about which Wikipedia says "On 20 June 1632, (King) Charles granted the original charter for Maryland, a proprietary colony of about twelve million acres (49,000 km²), to the 2nd Baron Baltimore.The charter offered no guidelines on religion, although it was assumed that Catholics would not be molested in the new colony."

At that time in the 1600s, would this tolerance have extended for peoples of all religions (Jews, Hindus, Muslims for example)? Or would it have been restricted to those inside the sphere of Christianity?

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    Note that the source states that there were no guidelines on religion, i.e. not on tolerance of religions either, "although it was assumed" that Catholics would not be "molested" by the (Protestant) new colony. When tolerance toward Catholics is merely "assumed", I wouldn't hold my breath for any non-Christian faith being well received...
    – DevSolar
    Feb 13, 2018 at 13:27
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it's a counterfactual question
    – user69715
    Feb 13, 2018 at 17:55
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    Honestly, during this period If there were Jews or someone from the Muslim/Hindu world, I assume they would also be racially discriminated against, regardless of religion.
    – user69715
    Feb 13, 2018 at 17:58
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    As a Marylander, I +1 this question.
    – AAM111
    Feb 13, 2018 at 19:18

2 Answers 2


No. You can read some on the Maryland Toleration Act in the wiki article, but it basically was for Christians, whether Protestant or Catholic, Anglican, Puritan or Quaker.

The Maryland Toleration Act, also known as the Act Concerning Religion, was a law mandating religious tolerance for Trinitarian Christians... Specifically, the bill, now usually referred to as the Toleration Act, granted freedom of conscience to all Christians.

Note the repeat of Christians. A little later in the article it says

The Act allowed freedom of worship for all Trinitarian Christians in Maryland, but sentenced to death anyone who denied the divinity of Jesus.

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(emphasis mine) So, tolerant of most Christians, but no one else.

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    "So, tolerant of Christians, but no one else." And not all Christians at that, as the second quote is aimed directly at the small but vigorous Unitarian community of the time. Feb 13, 2018 at 16:22
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    On the other hand, Pennsylvania allowed freedom of religion to anyone who believed in God, which extended to Jews and possibly Muslims. Feb 13, 2018 at 16:36
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    I believe Rhode Island was more tolerant as well, (but not the topic of the question). Studying my genealogy throughout the colonies, I found 'religious freedom' was usually defined very narrowly, and usually by locality.
    – justCal
    Feb 13, 2018 at 16:44
  • @dmckee - I thought the first Unitarian community in North America was King's Chapel in Boston under James Freeman in 1785, by which time this was not an issue
    – Henry
    Feb 14, 2018 at 1:30
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    It was not a particularly tolerant Toleration Act: swearing on Sundays was made illegal as was calling somebody a Lutheran (or other names) in a reproachful manner.
    – Henry
    Feb 14, 2018 at 10:40

No. Maryland was not the birthplace for religious freedom in the United States. Maryland's Toleration acts (1649) only applied to Christians, not Moslems and not Jews. Maryland's "tolerance acts" are not the model for United States religious freedom, that title goes to another state which pioneered separation of church and state earlier than the Maryland's toleration acts. Also, Maryland's toleration acts weren't left in place very long, they were only in effect for about 5 years before being repealed, in favor of religious intollerance by resurgent Puritans in the settlement.

Maryland was founded in 1632, King Charles I of England gave the charter to George Calvert who died before settlement began in March 1634. George Calvert's son Cecilius, took over and tried to make Maryland a home for former English Catholics who had been exiled and discriminated against in England.

history.com: - Maryland.
In 1632, King Charles I of England granted a charter to George Calvert, the first Lord Baltimore, yielding him proprietary rights to a region east of the Potomac River in exchange for a share of the income derived from the land. The territory was named Maryland in honor of Henrietta Maria, the queen consort of Charles I. Before settlement began, George Calvert died and was succeeded by his son Cecilius, who sought to establish Maryland as a haven for Roman Catholics persecuted in England. In March 1634, the first English settlers–a carefully selected group of Catholics and Protestants–arrived at St. Clement’s Island aboard the Ark and the Dove.

The Maryland Toleration Acts were passed in 1649 as a decade of religious struggles between Puritans both in the Colonies and in England fueled religious conflicts with Catholic settlers in the Colony of Maryland; however, In 1654, the Puritans gained control of the colony and repealed the Toleration acts.

history.com: - Maryland.
Religious conflict was strong in ensuing years as the American Puritans, growing more numerous in Maryland and supported by Puritans in England, set out to revoke the religious freedoms guaranteed in the founding of the colony. In 1649, Maryland Governor William Stone responded by passing an act ensuring religious liberty and justice to all who believed in Jesus Christ. In 1654, however, the so-called Toleration Act was repealed after Puritans seized control of the colony, leading to a brief civil war that ended with Lord Baltimore losing control of propriety rights over Maryland in March 1655.

The American philosophic model for religious freedom is typically traced to the American Baptist Church and Roger Williams. Roger Williams was a Puritan minister who was banished from Puritan dominated Massachusetts for preaching religious tolerance and separation of church and state. Once banished he moved south down the coast and formed the settlement / colony of Rhode Island in 1636 (13 years before Maryland's Toleration Acts). That is where Roger Williams built the first Baptist church in the United States, as a reform religion to Puritanism. In Rhode Island church and state would remain separate, and people were not subject to laws which favored one religion over another. This model not of religious tolerance, but of a complete separation of Church and Government is the model that would be written into the American Constitition in the first Amendment on Dec 1791.

** The Baptist religion was already in existence in England and Holland dating back decades prior to Roger Williams founding of Rhode Island.

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