Education and Family Life
Respect for Life
Religious Freedom in Maryland
The work of the Maryland Catholic Conference to advance the public policy interests of the Catholic Church in Maryland is made possible by the foundation laid by our Catholic forebears as early as the 16th century. We are indebted to them for their efforts, so often frustrated, to secure religious and political freedom for Catholics in Maryland. Below is a two-part series by Lawrence P. Grayson on attaining and maintaining religious freedom in Maryland. We thank Dr. Grayson for allowing us to publish his work. Click the links to read the full pieces.
Attaining Religious Freedom in Maryland
By Lawrence P. Grayson
Part 1 of 2
The freedom to practice one’s religion – and not be required to profess an adherence to a state- sanctioned creed – is a recent occurrence in world history. Even today, it is not the norm. America is blessed with that freedom, but it was not attained easily. This nation’s movement toward widespread religious toleration began in Maryland nearly four centuries ago, and its story is one of the ebb and flow of progress and reversal.
The roots of religious tolerance – and intolerance – in Maryland can be traced to the reign of England’s King Henry VIII, long before the colony existed. In the early 1500s, England was a Catholic country. The king, however, wanted to divorce his wife, Catherine of Aragon, and marry Anne Boleyn. As the church would not grant the divorce, Henry seized the church’s property in 1534 and declared himself the ecclesiastical, as well as temporal head of England. The church was made independent of the Pope in Rome. Catholics, unwilling and unable to take an oath declaring the king’s religious supremacy, were considered untrustworthy, prevented from holding government office, and widely discriminated against under Henry and succeeding rulers.
In 1580, George Calvert was born as the son of a wealthy, Catholic landowner. When he was in his early teens, his father converted to the Church of England because of the penal laws against Catholics. George was raised Protestant, attended Oxford, and then engaged in a long career of government service, rising to secretary of state and one of King James I’s closest advisors. He, like many leading men of the day, was attracted by the allure of riches in the New World and the Orient. In the 1623, he obtained a royal grant in Newfoundland to establish a colony, which he called Avalon after the mythical place where Christianity began in Britain. Two years later, George converted to Catholicism and resigned his office, when Puritan opposition to Catholics in office grew. The king rewarded his service by giving him a landholding and peerage in Ireland, with the title, Baron of Baltimore. Soon thereafter James died, and was succeeded by his son, Charles I.
In March 1627, Cecil, George’s eldest son, married Anne, daughter of Sir Thomas Arundel, a Catholic, further strengthening the family’s ties to Catholicism. That summer, George, accompanied by a few friends and two priests, visited Avalon, with a view to begin a Catholic settlement there. His hope, however, to make it a thriving colony based on farming and fishing failed because of the rocky soil and severity of the Newfoundland climate.
Calvert then requested a grant of land from the king in a more southern area, where Catholics could settle and practice their faith without recrimination. This was necessary because the existing American colonies were marked by religious intolerance. Virginia was established for commercial reasons as a royal colony settled by Anglicans; laws were developed that prohibited the practice of other religions and provided severe penalties, from whipping to exile to death, if disobeyed. Plymouth Bay Colony was settled by Pilgrims, and the Massachusetts Bay Colony by Puritans. These sects had been dissenting members of the Church of England, opposed to what they considered abuses in their Church. Pilgrims separated from the Church and sought freedom to practice their religion elsewhere. Puritans, who at first tried to reform or purify the Church from within, left England because of the discrimination they met. Puritans and Pilgrims believed strongly in their doctrines and would not tolerate heretical views, which were any they did not hold.
Charles was agreeable to Calvert’s request, but the matter required delicate considerations. The king was being accused of currying favor from the Catholic king of Spain to the detriment of England’s interests, and he could not be viewed as favoring Catholics, even English subjects. The settlement approved by a Protestant king ruling a Protestant country could not exclude Protestants.
Calvert proposed a solution. He drafted a charter for the new colony based on that for the Palatinate of Durham, a surviving entity from the Middle Ages. A palatinate gave its lord proprietary, virtually sovereign powers in return for buffering a border of England. If the king’s enemies raised an objection to the grant, he could respond that it simply was a continuation of an old English political practice. The charter stated that the lord proprietary should allow no prejudice to “God’s Holy and True Christian Religion,” a statement broad enough to allow wide interpretation. While this allowed religious freedom for Catholics, it also opened the new dominion to all Christians.
In 1632, the king agreed to a charter for land located north of Virginia. It was to be called Terra Mariae – or “Mary land” -- after the king’s young, Catholic wife, Henrietta Maria. Before the king’s seal could be affixed, George Calvert died, and the charter was granted to his son, Cecil, who also succeeded as the second Lord Baltimore. The new lord enlisted seventeen non-eldest sons of Catholic gentry, and over a hundred persons of lesser status, most of whom were Protestant, to settle the new land. Cecil appointed his younger brother, Leonard, to lead the group and serve as its governor. Two ships, the Ark and the Dove were boarded on November 22, 1633, on the Isle of Wight, where they surreptitiously were joined by Fr. Andrew White, S.J. and three Jesuit companions, Fathers John Altham, John Knowles and Timothy Hayes, and a small number of Catholics, bringing the number in the party to about 140. Before they could clear land, they took refuge from a storm near Yarmouth and did not depart until early the next morning, which was the feast of St. Clement.
After a perilous sea voyage, they arrived in March 1634, at a small island in the Potomac River, which they called St. Clement’s Island. On March 25, the Feast of the Annunciation, Father White offered Mass, which was the first time Mass was celebrated in English America. The group then processed with a large wooden cross, hewn from a tree, erected it on a hill, knelt and recited the "Litany of the Holy Cross". A few days later, they created their first permanent settlement, and capital for the colony, at a spot which they called St. Mary’s City. Thus, “Mary land”, which was begun in the name of God and the king, was the first colony established with a broad policy of religious tolerance.
Maintaining Religious Freedom in Maryland
By Lawrence P. Grayson
Part 2 of 2
Attaining religious freedom and maintaining it are two separate issues. Maryland was founded in 1634, based on a charter that granted religious freedom to all Christians. It was not long, however, before the Protestant majority resented being ruled by Catholic proprietors. In 1642, a political-religious split developed between the Anglican king, Charles I, and the Parliament, resulting in a civil war between Royalists who supported the king and Roundheads, that is, Puritans who supported Parliament.
The hostilities spread to Maryland, and in 1645 Richard Ingle and a band of Puritans, who were the most anti-Catholic of the Protestant sects, took control of St. Mary’s City, the seat of colonial government. They captured the five Jesuits who were resident there, and sent Father White, then 66, and Father Copley to England in irons. The other three priests, Fathers Hartwell, Rigby and Cooper, were put in the custody of truculent colonists to be left “among the heathens,” probably the Susquehannock Indians who
hated the Jesuits. The priests died shortly thereafter, very likely suffering martyrdom.
Father White was confined in Newgate Prison until January 1648, when he was tried for entering England as a Catholic priest, a crime punishable by death. The court found him not guilty because he had not come of his own will. Father was exiled to Flanders for most of the next decade, and then reentered England, where he died in 1656. He had desired to return to his “dear Marilandians,” but his superiors did not allow it as he was advanced in age and in poor health.
Leonard Calvert raised a force shortly after the attack on St. Mary’s City and retook control of the government. The following year, in England, Oliver Cromwell led a Puritan army that defeated the king’s forces. Charles was beheaded in 1649, and Lord Baltimore’s royal protection was gone. Cromwell became Lord Protector of England.
To placate the Protestant majority in Maryland and maintain religious peace, Cecil Calvert appointed a Protestant, William Stone, as governor. Then, in April 1649, Calvert issued “An Act Concerning Religion,” which has become known as the “Toleration Act,” guaranteeing colonists the right to worship as they pleased and providing punishments for anyone who openly criticized or slandered another’s religious beliefs. This was the first law in an English colony to ensure religious freedom, and set a precedent for the freedoms that would be guaranteed more than a century later in the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution.
With the issuance of the Toleration Act, Cecil Calvert had achieved his and his father’s goal of establishing a colony that guaranteed religious freedom for all Christians. Toleration, however, was short-lived. Soon after being appointed governor, Stone invited 300 Puritans, who were being persecuted in Virginia, to settle in Maryland. Then, Cromwell sent Puritan Richard Bennett and William Claiborne to govern Maryland and Virginia. In 1654, the latter men appointed a governing council of ten Puritans, which repealed the Toleration Act and banned Catholics from practicing their religion. Three years later, the persistent Cecil signed an agreement with Bennett and Claiborne that once again assured religious freedom to Catholics. When Cromwell died in 1658, Cecil regained control of Maryland and reinstituted the Toleration Act. In England, King Charles II gained the crown and allowed the Act to remain. The next thirty years marked the longest period of religious freedom in Maryland’s early history.
When Charles died in 1685, his brother, James, a Catholic, became king. There was great public resentment to having a Catholic on the throne, and three years later, James was overthrown. His daughter, Mary, and her husband, the Protestant William of Orange, became the sovereigns. Laws were passed to prevent a Catholic from ever again assuming the throne of England. Maryland was made a royal colony, and Protestant Lionel Copley was appointed governor.
In 1692, the colony’s Assembly passed the “Act for the Service of Almighty God and the Establishment of the Protestant Religion within this Province,” making the Church of England the official religion of Maryland. Every taxable person was required to pay an annual levy of forty pounds of tobacco to support Anglican churches and their ministers within the colony. In order to hold public office or serve on juries, a person was required to take an oath of fidelity to the Church of England, repudiate papal authority and deny the doctrine of transubstantiation. Thus, less than 60 years after its founding, Catholics, who then constituted less than one-twelfth of the colony’s population, had their religion severly proscribed by law. In 1695, the capital was moved from St. Mary’s City to Annapolis in order to reduce Calvert’s power and the influence of Catholics.
Anti-Catholicism continued. In 1702, the General Assembly placed a twenty-shilling duty on indentured servants from Ireland to discourage the emigration of “Irish Papists.” Laws were enacted outlawing public baptisms and Masses, Catholic schools, and attempts to convert Protestant to Catholicism. In 1718, the Assembly denied the vote to all Catholics who did not take the Oath of Supremacy.
In 1715, Benedict Calvert, who converted to Anglicanism two years earlier, became the fourth Lord Baltimore. As a loyal subject of the king, Maryland was restored to him. It remained in the Calvert family until the Revolution, when the 13 colonies gained independence.
Religious discrimination in Maryland remained throughout most of the 18th century. When Charles Carroll signed the Declaration of Independence – the only Catholic to do so – he was not allowed to hold public office, to vote, or to practice law, the profession for which he had studied. It was not until Maryland passed a Constitution and a Declaration of Rights in 1776 that these discriminatory laws were abrogated and Catholics -- and other Christian minority sects – were granted full rights.
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