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Three hundred sixty-four years ago this month, two tiny sailing ships arrived near what is now St. Mary's City with the first settlers in Maryland. The Ark and the Dove were sent to the New World by Cecil Calvert. Lord Baltimore had founded his small colony as a haven for those persecuted in England because of their religious beliefs.

On numerous occasions since then - from passage of the Act of Toleration in 1649 to the achievement of full civil liberties for Jews in 1825 to landmark Supreme Court decisions involving the state in the 1960s - Maryland has been a beacon of religious liberty in the United States.

Passage of the Religious Freedom Act (currently before the General Assembly as House Bill 1041 and Senate Bill 515) would prevent state and local governments from adopting any measure that would infringe upon an individual's religious beliefs, unless such actions were essential (and the least-restrictive means) to furthering a "compelling state interest."




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