Baptists chose Liberty over Tolerance
The members of the First Baptist Church of Middleborough, Massachusetts, no doubt were sore grieved when their pastor, the Rev. Isaac Backus posted the following notice on July 16, 1759 which read in part, “Whereas by a late Law of this Province it is enacted that a List of the Names of those who belong to each Baptist Society (Church) must be taken each year and given in to the Assessors before the 20th of July or else they will stand liable to be Rated to the ministers where they live:…” In other words Baptists could get an “exemption” from paying the Congregational ministers salary and the upkeep of their church buildings, if they could prove that they were faithful in their own services. Backus spent a great deal of time fighting to eradicate state support for the Standing Order churches. He said that it was not only “taxation without representation” but it robbed the Baptists of their property and livestock to pay the tax that Baptists would not pay out of conviction, and also stole money from them that they could use to build their own meeting houses and pay their preachers. Baptists rejoiced in Jan. 1786 when Virginia passed their act for Religious Freedom. It said, “…no man shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same in no wise diminish, enlarge or affect their civil capacities.” There is a vast difference between “Tolerance and Liberty.” Tax exemption is based on the recipient asking for the privilege from a higher authority and meeting certain demands. The other is recognizing that liberty comes from God and demanding from our public servants that they guarantee those inalienable rights as embodied in the First Amendment. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”
Dr. Greg J. Dixon: adapted From: This Day in Baptist History Vol. I: Cummins/Thompson, pp. 291-92.