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consciences of a Jew, a Deist, a Rationalist, a Swedenborgian, a Mormon, a Hindu, or a Chinaman. The guaranty does not inquire into the correctness of these several consciences, or pronounce any judgment upon them. It leaves each one to judge for himself as to what his religion shall be, and then declares that he shall not only not be interfered with, but that he shall be protected in the peaceable exercise of that judgment. It is not religious liberty for Christians, or for Protestants merely, but religious liberty for all the people, that the State constitutions undertake to secure.
7. The limitation upon this liberty, expressed in some of these constitutions and implied in others, is that it must be so exercised as to be consistent with the rights of society. The theory of the limitation is, that there can be no right of a religious conscience to commit trespasses against the peace,
, good order, and safety of the social system. Thus the constitution of Missouri declares that “the liberty of conscience hereby secured shall not be so construed as to excuse acts of licentiousness, nor to justify practices inconsistent with the good order, peace, or safety of society, or with the rights of others.” Such a limitation, whether expressed or not, necessarily exists. Society has the right to protect itself and to protect all its members by just and wholesome laws; and this right it cannot surrender to any abuse or misuse of the rights of conscience. The fact that polygamy is made a part of one's religion will not, if he practises it, exempt him from punishment in a community that treats the practice as a criminal offense. It is the right and the duty of civil society to judge for itself as to what is demanded by good morals and the general interests of the public ; and there can be no right in the individual conscience to subvert and contravene this judgment.
These seven particulars are submitted as a generalized statement of the doctrine in respect to the rights of conscience, as found in the constitutions of thirty-five States of this Union and as implied in those of the other two States. Though independent of each other and in their sphere of legal action independent of the General Government, these States exhibit a remarkable unity of opinion and purpose when dealing with religion considered in relation to the individual conscience. This fact very strikingly appears when we compare their respective constitutions with reference to this subject.
How, then, does such a constitutional system harmonize with the theory of those who demand that our public schools shall be made the instrumentality of religious propagandism? In respect to private schools there is no such question to ask, since the State has no control over them and taxes nobody for their support. But when the State interposes by its authority, establishes an educational system, and makes religion a part of it by its authority, and taxes the people for its support by the same authority, then it coerces the taxpayer to contribute his money for the maintenance and propagation of that religion. Suppose that his conscience regards the religion as a gross heresy and forbids him to do anything for its support.
This will be true of the Catholic if the religion is Protestant, and true of the Protestant if the religion is Catholic, and true of the Jew if the religion is either Protestant or Catholic. Is it, then, consistent with the constitutional doctrine of the American States as to the rights of conscience to force the taxpayer to pay his money for the propagation of a religious system which his conscience condemns and which, as he believes, the God of that conscience condemns ? The Protestant would instantly answer in the negative if the religion to be thus taught and made a compulsory charge upon him were Roman Catholicism, or Mohammedanism, or any form of idolatry. He would protest against it as an infringement upon his rights of conscience and as inconsistent with the spirit, if not the letter, of those provisions in our State constitutions which protect these rights.
The same protest and the same argument, coming from a Catholic, a Jew, or a Deist, are just as good as when coming from a Protestant. It matters not who makes the protest or who uses the argument. The principle is the same in all cases. The rights of conscience in respect to religion are,
in this country, constitutional rights, and that, too, without any discrimination or distinction among different consciences. The necessary inference is that no State should, and that no State consistently can, compel anybody to contribute a penny for the support or propagation of any form of religion. Public schools, established by State authority and supported at the public expense, ought to be so regulated as to avoid this result ; and the only regulation which secures the end is the exclusion of religion from their educational programme. This and this only makes the schools consistent with the rights of conscience as laid down in the fundamental law of the States.
Those who have any controversy with the inference have the same controversy with this law. That man certainly is not free in the exercise of his religion who is by law forced to support a religion, and especially so if he condemns and rejects the religion he is thus compelled to support. The compulsion, whether it relates to the public school or church worship, is an abominable tyranny. It flies directly in the face of the very first principles of our constitutional system of State Governments.
TAXATION AND RELIGIOUS CORPORATIONS.
Seventeen of the State constitutions—namely, those of California, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, and Vermont-contain no express provisions relating to the taxation of religious corporations. The whole question is, therefore, by implication, left to the discretion of the legislatures of these States.
The constitutions of Florida (XII., I), Illinois (IX., 3), Indiana (X., 1), Louisiana (VI., 118), Nevada (X., 1), North Carolina (V., 6), Ohio (XII., 2), Oregon (IX., I), Pennsylvania (IX.,.1), South Carolina (IX., 1), Tennessee (II., 28), Texas (XII., 19), Virginia (X., 3), West Virginia (X., I), and Wisconsin (VIII., 1)—fifteen States in all-expressly remit the question of taxation in respect to these corporations to legislative determination.
The constitution of Minnesota (IX., 3), declares that “all churches, church property used for religious purposes, and houses of worship