In 1845, parliament passed an act establishing the three Queen’s Colleges in Ireland – Belfast, Galway and Cork – with the stipulation that ‘religious’ instruction in the colleges would have to be sponsored by voluntary organisations, not the state. Prior to 1845, parliament’s approach to providing spiritual guidance in state-run institutions had been one of ‘parallel patronage’, assuring that wherever there were individuals representing different denominational backgrounds, religious specialists from each denomination would be appointed to work in the institution. For example, the Prisons (Ireland) Act, 1826 required that Catholic, Presbyterian and Anglican chaplains serve their respective portions of the prison population in each gaol that housed any of their co-denominationalists. But in 1845, parliament took an ostensibly different tack, implying that denominations would have to sponsor their young men’s study of theology or any other ‘religious’ subject at university level. However, this article argues that the Irish colleges bill gained assent from the liberal wing of parliamentary opinion precisely because it seemed, to early Victorian liberals, to instantiate the logic of parallel patronage. Using Thomas Wyse, Charles Buller, and T. B. Macaulay as cases in point, this article reveals that the logic behind this vision of state ‘neutrality’ as simultaneous support for each denominational interest was steeped in a working knowledge of colonialism.