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State-sponsored religion is very taxing
By Mark Shepard, Bennington Vermont

April 26, 2007

While the freedom to practice religion, as one desire, is a founding American principle, so is the prohibition against the state sponsoring any particular religion. Our nation’s founders understood the folly of state-sponsored religion both in terms of the high financial burden that is inevitably placed upon citizens and how it undermines religious liberty and the free flow of good ideas.

Yet in many ways the Vermont State House has become a center for advancing a particular belief system – government-orchestrated society is best – and opinions to the contrary are rarely considered. Our lawmakers propose and pass laws directing nearly every aspect of our lives. And the list of sins is rapidly expanding to cover what you eat, what you drive, what you eat when you drive, and how you heat your home – each with its sin tax.

It should be no surprise that we are one of the highest taxed states in the nation, yet with below average economic opportunity. It costs a lot to try to govern everything; and the results never match the promises.

In my first term in the State Senate I encouraged action on healthcare. Yet no action was taken until my second term when the Democrat leadership proclaimed that healthcare was in crisis and the only answer was government taking control of the healthcare sector.

Meanwhile nations with government-controlled healthcare were implementing market reforms to rescue their failing healthcare systems. And in Vermont, with more than a decade of government expansion into the healthcare market, the result is higher costs with fewer options.

However, in their mission to expand government the Democrat-led majority prevented an honest discussion, outright disregarding the shortcomings and failures in government-controlled systems. In the end we got more government control and new taxes, in the form of Catamount Health, not all they wanted, but certainly a step toward their goal.

Now global warming is proclaimed the crisis. Again only one perspective is considered; global temperature warming is the result of human-produced CO2. Yet the scientific data is clear, the correlation between CO2 and global temperature is in fact just the opposite. CO2 levels follow global temperature, and temperature follows solar activity. However these facts are brushed aside in favor of a hypothesis that is counter to the scientific data so that lawmakers can find something to tax – us, with a new sin tax for driving our cars and heating our homes.

Those taxes artificially inflate energy costs forcing most people to use less energy, leaving the energy available only for the wealthy. Hence this sin tax takes energy from working people to benefit the wealthy. Furthermore, less energy means less opportunity, since affordable energy is a must for opportunity.

Our lawmakers have also enacted laws to control the flow of ideas outside the State House. Good, bad or indifferent, the issues acted upon in recent years – socialized healthcare, global warming, doctor assisted suicide, gay marriage / civil unions, gender identity, etc. – generate an enormous amount of money to influence elections, and most of the money is from outside Vermont.

And while lawmakers claim campaign finance laws are to reduce the influence of big money, in reality these laws only limit the influence you and I as Vermonters have in our elections. In my 2002 State Senate race the individual donation limit was $300, yet according to the Rutland Herald one special-interest group spent over $16,000 in direct support for one of my opponents and some less for her running mate. I still won a seat, but in most of the state that big special-interest money elected people.

Our nation was founded on the principle of government having limited powers and limited responsibility. It is not enough to have the checks and balances of a three-branch government. Concentrated power will still breed corruption, because power attracts power hungry people. Even those who enter politics for honorable reasons often find themselves unable to resist the temptation to abuse that power.

There are many reasons people join a religion, and this movement that has taken control of our State House is no different. There are true believers, who honestly believe government can fix anything … if only it were given a little more power. Then there are those who just want power. Either way expanding the role of government from protecting the fundamental rights of life and liberty is not only very costly to the taxpayer; it truly undermines the opportunity for citizens to pursue happiness.

The pursuit of happiness requires the freedom to dream, express and work out ideas, without government interference, positive or negative. It also requires that citizens have the right to invest their creativity, time and resources as desired and to reap the fruits of that investment, positive or negative.

These basic rights along with our way of life are at risk as long as our State House is run by zealots eager to use the power of the state to limit ideas and information to those that benefits their belief system.

© Mark Shepard

Mark Shepard
Bennington, Vermont

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