That's what came to mind when I read the following story this morning: 1775 document: Colonists asked pacifists to pay. It turns out that the Patriot leaders in one Pennsylvania county asked contientious objectors to pay a fee instead of serving in the colonial militas that where then gearing up to fight the British. The objectors were provided an exemption from service based on their "religious scruples," but were expected to pay in order to provide for the defense of the broader community.
An interesting piece of history -- and one that doesn't really have anything to do with hippies. But it does have to do with the perennial question in a society such as ours: at what point do sincerely held religious beliefs exempt individuals from obeying the rules set up by the broader society? In the 1775 document, that question arose over military service, but in the modern context, it arises over a host of cultural issues, e.g., sexuality & the family, conscience rights for health care providers, religious expression in the public square, etc. As our society grows increasingly religiously pluralistic while remaining, for the foreseeable future at least, predominently influenced by the Judeo-Christian tradition, controversies involving this perennial question will become more common, not less.
The 1775 documents represents a classic American approach to the intersection of religious conscience and public affairs. The right of the objectors not to serve in the militia was recognized and respected, while at the same time the objectors' participation in the community was affirmed as well. By encouraging the objectors to pay a fee instead of serving in the military, the 1775 document provides both for the needs of the Patriot cause and for the religious duties of the objectors. In so doing, it reflects the traditional American concept of according a wide berth for religious expression, while insisting that religious believers' liberty be truly that -- liberty, not license disconnected from duty to the community.