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Play Our Way…or Pay - 1632


When the United States Constitution forbade the writing of any law respecting religion, its framers wanted to prevent the federal government from implementing religious laws that might go against the consciences of some citizens. Such laws had been common in the states, especially in Massachusetts and Virginia. Today’s excerpt is from one of those laws, which was promulgated in Virginia on this day February 24, 1632. The spelling has been modernized.


“It is ordered, That there be a uniformity throughout this colony both in substance and circumstance to the canons and constitution of the Church of England as near as may be and that every person yield ready obedience unto them upon penalty of the pains and forfeitures in that case appointed.

“That the statutes for coming to church every Sunday and holy days be duly executed. That is to say; that the church wardens do levy one shilling for every time of any person’s absence from the church having no lawful or reasonable excuse to be absent. And for due execution hereof the governor and council together with the burgesses of this grand assembly do in Gods [sic]  name earnestly require and charge all commanders, captains and church-wardens that they shall endeavor themselves to the uttermost of their knowledge that the due and true execution hereof may be done and had through this colony, as they will answer before God for such evils and plagues wherewith Almighty God may iustly punish his people for neglecting this good and wholesome law.

“And it is further ordered and thought expedient, according to a former order made, by the governor and council that all church-wardens shall take this oath and that it be administered before those that are of the commission for monthly courts…. [The oath to be taken was inserted here] … No man shall disparage a minister whereby the minds of his parishioners may be alienated from him and his ministry prove less effectual upon pain of sever censure of the governor and council.”


Quoted at Virtual Jamestown, “Laws and Documents relating to religion in early Virginia,  1606-1660.”

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