Maryland is often revered as the colony that officially created religious tolerance. This is not wholly accurate. George Calvert, and his son Cecilius, created Maryland as a safe haven for Catholics. Unfortunately, not enough Catholics moved to Maryland to make it economically viable. As proof that it was business first and religion second, Maryland opened up settlement to Anglicans, who soon outnumbered the Catholics in the colony.
Catholics held the highest positions in the colony, but Protestants fought for control and Catholics feared as a minority religious group they would be persecuted in Maryland. For this reason, in 1649 Maryland established the Maryland Toleration Act granting freedom of worship to anyone who believed in the Trinity. Rather than a fundamental principle of Maryland, religious tolerance was an afterthought to protect Catholics from Protestants. The law did not protect any Christian denomination or any other group that did not believe in the Trinity, and legally prosecuted people who spoke against Christian beliefs.
Catholics were right to fear persecution in Maryland. In the 1650s, Puritans took over the colony and in 1654 repealed the act, making Catholicism and Anglicanism illegal. The Calverts regained the colony in 1658 and restored the act. In 1692, Puritans once again seized Maryland from the Calverts as part of the Glorious Revolution. Puritans repealed the act, this time for good, in 1702 they made Anglicanism the official colonial religion, and in 1718 they banned Catholics from voting.
In 1715, Benedict Calvert, great-grandson of George Calvert regained Maryland, but only after he converted to Anglicanism. Annapolis, created by Puritans, became the capital of Maryland. Catholics practiced their faith in secret until the American Revolution. Most scholars trace the First Amendment to Maryland, but perhaps that is less about the act of religious tolerance and more about the lack of religious tolerance.
Editors Note: Travis Childs is a history instructor at Cameron University in Lawton, Okla. He is a graduate of Midway High School and lives in Bluegrove. He is currently president of the Clay County Historical Society.