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Opinion: States' religious liberty has been compromised

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opinion Mitchell,South Dakota 57301
The Daily Republic
Opinion: States' religious liberty has been compromised
Mitchell South Dakota 120 South Lawler 57301

I want to thank Bob Duffett for his well-researched guest editorial regarding the mosque controversy. But I have to take issue with his conclusion "that America is still the home of the brave and religiously free."


Duffett mentioned Thomas Jefferson's letter to the Danbury Baptists that points to the "wall of separation between church and state" that was built by the First Amendment. And Duffett correctly quoted the First Amendment's beginning as saying, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free expression thereof." Note that the restriction was on "Congress," and that there are two components, the "Establishment Clause" and the "Free Exercise Clause." Keep that in mind as I bring forward the Baptist's deep concerns that are lost in today's discussion of religious liberty.

Duffett was also correct in saying that, "[b]oth Jefferson and Madison rejected the English pattern of a tax-supported state church..." I would like to add that Madison was on Virginia's Committee of Religion who was drafting Virginia's Bill of Rights shortly after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. There we find the details behind the Baptist's concerns.

The committee received a petition from Prince Edward County that states "you would pull down all Church establishments [and] abolish every Tax upon Conscience and private judgment." According to Michael Farris, in his book "From Tyndale to Madison," the Baptists of Prince William County "requested full liberty to worship without interruption, freedom from religious taxes so they might be able to support their own ministers only..." They also referred to Madison's Declaration of Rights that included, "by taxation, their property hath been wrested from them and given to those from whom they receive no equivalent..."

So even though the Baptists were allowed free exercise, they did not have total religious liberty because they paid a tax to the state that supported the Church of England exclusively. That was why the First Amendment needed the Establishment clause in order to ensure religious liberty. America was intended to be inclusive for all, and not exclusive to one.

In America today, we all pay an education tax that funds state supported public education. For those who disagree with the humanist religious doctrines that preach Darwin's evolution theory as established fact, and reject the Christian creationism, we can educate our children at home and in private schools. So, like the colonial Baptists, we do have "free exercise," but because our tax dollars do not follow the parent's choice of education, we lack religious liberty because our property is "wrested" from us and used by the state to establish the religion of humanism in the state supported schools. This is not just and is clearly unconstitutional as it violates a core requirement of religious liberty. State supported education should not be exclusive to one religion, but instead inclusive for all religions.

The more recent Supreme Court definition of religion includes non-theistic religions when they rule on the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, but exclude nontheistic religion when they rule on the Establishment Clause. This inconsistent application of the First Amendment is how the courts have removed religious liberty in America today.

And further, since the First Amendment restricts "Congress," the federal government should not stop the building of the mosque at Ground Zero, but the state of New York could. Unfortunately the modern day version of the Supreme Court has violated the 10th Amendment by using the 14th Amendment to incorrectly apply the First Amendment restrictions to state legislatures, including South Dakota's. America is far from enjoying religious liberty today, as states' rights have been compromised.

I will fight tooth and nail to restore religious liberty in South Dakota. I have a threeyear plan to do just that. I invite Bob Duffett, the president of a private Christian college, to join in that fight, along with all liberty loving citizens of Davison and Aurora counties. Let us do more than just give lip service to religious liberty.

Steven "Sibby" Sibson is a Mitchell resident who writes a political blog.

In Other Words features opinions from local and other contributors who have areas of special interest or expertise. Material shouldn't exceed 600 words and can be emailed, along with a photo, to or mailed to Editor, The Daily Republic, 120 S. Lawler, Mitchell, S.D., 57301. The Daily Republic cannot guarantee all submitted material will be used.