New Hampshire’s legislature has become the latest to enact legislation permitting same-sex civil marriages, after language changes that would protect the religious liberty of churches, synagogues, etc. which believe that participation would violate their deepest convictions. Gov. John Lynch (D-NH) is set to veto this legislation because he believes the religious liberty protections are not enough. But in a surprise move that should elate both GLBT rights advocates and champions of religious liberty, Gov. Lynch today decided not to veto the bill outright. Rather, meeting with leaders of the legislature, he sent the bill back with proposed amendment that, if adopted, he will sign into law.
This could be the way forward in the struggle for marriage equality. I have been confident that the religious liberty concerns could be worked out, but doing so in advance avoids needless court cases in our already litigious society. If it works, NH’s law could be a model for other states where support for marriage equality is strong, but so are religious liberty concerns: New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and even California. When this inevitably reaches the federal level, through the legislative repeal of the “Defense of Marriage Act” or through the courts or both, the NH “Lynch solution” may provide wisdom there, too.
Below is the full text of Gov. Lynch’s speech, today, and the language he wants the NH law to include:
“The gay marriage debate in New Hampshire has been filled with passion and emotion on all sides.
“My personal views on the subject of marriage have been shaped by my own experience, tradition and upbringing. But as Governor of New Hampshire, I recognize that I have a responsibility to consider this issue through a broader lens.
“In the past weeks and months, I have spoken with lawmakers, religious leaders and citizens. My office has received thousands of phone calls, letters and emails. I have studied our current marriage and civil union laws, the laws of other states, the bills recently passed by the legislature and our history and traditions.
“Two years ago, we passed civil unions legislation here in New Hampshire. That law gave same-sex couples in civil unions the same rights and protections as marriage. And in typical New Hampshire fashion, the people of this state embraced civil unions and agreed we needed to continue our tradition of opposing discrimination.
“At its core, HB 436 simply changes the term ‘civil union’ to ‘civil marriage.’ Given the cultural, historical and religious significance of the word marriage, this is a meaningful change.
“I have heard, and I understand, the very real feelings of same-sex couples that a separate system is not an equal system. That a civil law that differentiates between their committed relationships and those of heterosexual couples undermines both their dignity and the legitimacy of their families.
“I have also heard, and I understand, the concerns of our citizens who have equally deep feelings and genuine religious beliefs about marriage. They fear that this legislation would interfere with the ability of religious groups to freely practice their faiths.
“Throughout history, our society’s views of civil rights have constantly evolved and expanded. New Hampshire’s great tradition has always been to come down on the side of individual liberties and protections.
“That is what I believe we must do today.
“But following that tradition means we must act to protect both the liberty of same-sex couples and religious liberty. In their current form, I do not believe these bills accomplish those goals.
“The Legislature took an important step by clearly differentiating between civil and religious marriage, and protecting religious groups from having to participate in marriage ceremonies that violate their fundamental religious beliefs.
“But the role of marriage in many faiths extends beyond the actual marriage ceremony.
“I have examined the laws of other states, including Vermont and Connecticut, which have recently passed same-sex marriage laws. Both go further in protecting religious institutions than the current New Hampshire legislation.
“This morning, I met with House and Senate leaders, and the sponsors of this legislation, and gave them language that will provide additional protections to religious institutions.
“This new language will provide the strongest and clearest protections for religious institutions and associations, and for the individuals working with such institutions.
It will make clear that they cannot be forced to act in ways that violate their deeply held religious principles.
“If the legislature passes this language, I will sign the same-sex marriage bill into law. If the legislature doesn’t pass these provisions, I will veto it.
“We can and must treat both same-sex couples and people of certain religious traditions with respect and dignity.
“I believe this proposed language will accomplish both of these goals and I urge the legislature to pass it.”
Attached is the language Gov. Lynch has proposed for the same Sex legislation.
# # #
I. Notwithstanding any other provision of law, a religious organization, association, or society, or any individual who is managed, directed, or supervised by or in conjunction with a religious organization, association or society, or any nonprofit institution or organization operated, supervised or controlled by or in conjunction with a religious organization, association or society, shall not be required to provide services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods or privileges to an individual if such request for such services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods or privileges is related to the solemnization of a marriage, the celebration of a marriage, or the promotion of marriage through religious counseling, programs, courses, retreats, or housing designated for married individuals, and such solemnization, celebration, or promotion of marriage is in violation of their religious beliefs and faith. Any refusal to provide services, accommodations, advantages, facilities, goods or privileges in accordance with this section shall not create any civil claim or cause of action or result in any state action to penalize or withhold benefits from such religious organization, association or society, or any individual who is managed, directed, or supervised by or in conjunction with a religious organization, association or society, or any nonprofit institution or organization operated, supervised or controlled by or in conjunction with a religious organization, association or society.
II. The marriage laws of this state shall not be construed to affect the ability of a fraternal benefit society to determine the admission of members pursuant to RSA 418:5, and shall not require a fraternal benefit society that has been established and is operating for charitable and educational purposes and which is operated, supervised or controlled by or in connection with a religious organization to provide insurance benefits to any person if to do so would violate the fraternal benefit society’s free exercise of religion as guaranteed by the first amendment of the Constitution of the United States and part 1, article 5 of the Constitution of New Hampshire
III. Nothing in this chapter shall be deemed or construed to limit the protections and exemptions provided to religious organizations under RSA § 354-A:18.
IV. Repeal. RSA 457-A, relative to civil unions, is repealed effective January 1, 2011, except that no new civil unions shall be established after January 1, 2010.
Gov. John E. Balducci (D-ME) signed legislation today that puts Maine on the train of marriage equality. With the signing of LD 1020, An Act to End Discrimination in Civil Marriage and Affirm Religious Freedom, Maine becomes the 5th U.S. State (not counting CA) to allow same-sex civil marriages and the 2nd (after Vermont) to do so by legislation rather than by decision of a state supreme court. The ME law contained specific provisions that would protect religious groups who object to same-sex marriage from having their right to discriminate infringed, including protecting the right to refuse to use church (synagogue, etc.) property for a same-sex wedding ceremony even if the church (synagogue, etc.) was in the practice of renting out church property to non-church members for weddings. With these provisions, the ME law takes notice of the religious liberty concerns that some people who are otherwise supportive of marriage equality had. (I, myself, believe that these kinds of religious liberty conflicts could well have been handled by the courts in the same way that they were for interracial marriages after Loving v. Virginia in 1967, but if a law spells this out beforehand, it certainly saves time and trouble. 🙂 )
States with civil marriage equality now include Massachussetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, and Maine. Last year, California’s Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality and same-sex marriages were legal for several months, but a ballot initiative known as Proposition 8 amended the state constitution to once more restrict civil marriages to heterosexual couples. The legality of Proposition 8 itself (opponents claim that it is not a simple amendment, but a major revision of the California constitution and thus cannot be made by simple ballot initiative) is itself being challenged in the state supreme court, but it is widely believed that Prop. 8 will stand. (This will not end the struggle for marriage equality in CA, but will delay it.)
Next up is probably New Hampshire. The NH legislature has passed marriage equality legislation,but the different versions between House and Senate (one chamber includes religious liberty provisions similiar to Me) have to be reconciled [update] and today reconciled the two versions and this afternoon sent the final version (with religious protections similar to ME) to the governor. Gov. David Lynch (D-NH) is an odd duck who hasn’t said whether or not he’ll sign the law and has said that his constituents SHOULD NOT call him with their opinions!! Legislation supporting marriage equality has also been introduced in New York, New Jersey, and Rhode Island, but has yet to clear committee for floor votes in any of these states.
It looks as if New England will be the first entire region of the nation where marriage equality will be the law of the land. Iowa is the lone state outside of New England where marriage equality is legal. Iowa is deep in the heartland of the nation and if the law stands there, then it will be a bellwhether for the rest of the nation. What is happening in New England is amazing, but marriage equality supporters need to watch continued developments in Iowa to see how fast this victory will spread outside of New England–which is the most socially liberal region of the nation.
Cf.: By contrast, the Louisiana legislature is moving to enact legislation that would prevent same-sex couples from both having their names on the birth certificates of children. This would apply whether or not the children were by one partner from a previous heterosexual relationship, adopted by the couple, or conceived through in vitro fertilization. In my view, this law seems particularly cruel: A child learns to call both parents “mommy,” or “daddy,” but only one is legally entitled to that honorific? And the practical implications are devastating; as one example, it would all but force hospitals to discriminate against the parent that was not legally “family” in cases where all but family are isolated from the patient. Or, if the legal parent died, this law would make it hard for the other parent to have custody–she or he would have to adopt and there would be custody battles. This anti-family law , if passed, will hurt the children most of all.
So, one sees that the struggle for equal treatment under the law continues–and not everywhere at the same speed or even in the same direction.
Collecting some old series together. This will be added to the “Popular Series” page.
Robert T. Handy (1918-2009) has died in his NJ retirement community at age 90. An American Baptist historian, Handy taught at Union Theological Seminary in NY (an ecumenical seminary) from 1950 until retirement in 1986. A prolific author, Handy was known for his writings on Baptist history and the history of Christianity in North America, as well defending church-state separation and debunking popular myths of a bygone era of “Christian America.”
Handy was a graduate of Brown University (B.A.), still a Baptist-related institution at the time, with a degree in European history. He earned his Bachelor of Divinity (B.D.) degree from Colgate-Rochester Divinity School, was ordained and served Baptist churches in Illinois. After a stint as a chaplain in the U.S. army, he earned a Ph.D. in Church History at the University of Chicago (also then still related to American Baptists, though already an ecumenical institution).
Handy was a primary example for how to be true to one’s own tradition while also being very ecumenical. He was a firm champion of religious liberty, church-state separation, and liberty of conscience. For these reasons, although his personal theology was fairly traditional, he was often a target of the theocrats and Christian nationalists. (Sometimes the best compliment is to have the right enemies.)
Rest in peace, servant of a Servant Lord.
Former conservative Lutheran minister turned conservative Catholic priest, Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, has died. Neuhaus’ book, The Naked Public Square, was the major ammunition of the Religious Right’s claim that church-state separation amounts to the marginalization (or even “persecution”) of Christians. Not surprisingly, Bruce Prescott, champion of religious liberty and church-state separation, has a different reaction to this news than the conservative Catholic journal First Things.
I am somewhere in the middle. While I share Bruce’s opinions about both the Theocons (theocratic conservatives) and Christian Nationalists (Neuhaus was more in this group) and the way they used Neuhaus’ book to claim that all attempts to defend religious pluralism and to prevent creeping religious establishmentarianism (de jure or de facto) were, instead, attempts to silence religious voices in public affairs, I did appreciate the tone and nuance of Neuhaus. You could debate him and dialogue with him. He was of a different character than the shrill voices of intolerance who used his book to advance their extremism–and he actually became more reasonable after his conversion to Catholicism. Nonetheless, I hope that Fr. Neuhaus’ passing is also the passing of an era–and one I won’t miss.
I hope that even in U.S. Catholicism we see a return to defense of religious liberty for all and church-state separation–Catholic voices like that of the late Fr. John Courtney Murray, S.J.
A guest-post by Aaron Weaver, Ph.D. student in Religion, Politics, and Society at Baylor University’s J. M. Dawson Institute of Church-State Studies. This post is adapted from his Baylor M.A. Thesis, “ James Dunn and Soul Freedom: A Baptist Paradigm for Political Engagement in the Public Arena.” The son, grandson, and nephew of Baptist ministers, Aaron was a Congressional intern for the legendary civil rights leader, Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) and previously worked for the Baptist Joint Committee on Religious Liberty. He also has the great personal blog, Big Daddy Weave.
“Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.” This famous phrase characterizes the ministry of Baptists such as Thomas Helwys, Roger Williams, John Leland and others. In the last half of the twentieth century, James Dunn has been the loudest and most aggressive Baptist proponent for religious liberty in the United States. Dunn is best known for his leadership as Executive Director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, an organization comprised of multiple Baptist bodies that deals solely with religious liberty issues on Capitol Hill. Dunn’s defense of religious liberty and the separation of church and state became one of the pivotal issues in the Southern Baptist Controversy during the 1980s. He was one of the primary targets of the “Conservative Resurgence” or “Fundamentalist Takeover” that ultimately gained control of the Southern Baptist Convention and subsequently defunded the participation of Southern Baptists in the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty.
James Dunn embodies and articulates a paradigm for Baptist political engagement in the public arena which is based upon the concept of soul freedom: voluntary uncoerced faith and an unfettered individual conscience before God. His vision of religious liberty and separation of church and state is especially rooted in the doctrine of soul freedom. Dunn argues that soul freedom is the cornerstone that precedes and demands religious liberty and separation of church and state for all persons in the political arena. With uncompromising intensity, Dunn defends soul freedom as the historic Baptist basis for religious liberty. Dunn attempts to so identify with the radical component of the Baptist witness to religious liberty that Baptist historian Walter Shurden has called him a modern day “John Leland,” the eighteenth and early nineteenth century’s strongest proponent of a thoroughgoing separation of church and state.
James Dunn: A Biographical Overview
A self-described “Texas-bred, Spirit-led, Bible-teaching, revival-preaching, recovering Southern Baptist,” James Milton Dunn was born in Fort Worth, Texas, on June 17, 1932 to William Thomas Dunn and Edith Campbell Dunn. Dunn began his educational journey in the Forth Worth public school system where he played in his high school’s eighty member symphony orchestra. After a stint at Texas Christian University, Dunn transferred to Texas Wesleyan University where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in history in 1953. As a nineteen-year-old junior at Texas Wesleyan, Dunn accepted a “call” to vocational ministry. Consequently, Dunn pursued graduate theological training. His educational experience at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary began in 1953. Dunn received his Bachelor of Divinity in 1957 and his Doctor of Theology in 1966. While a seminary student, Dunn served Texas Baptist Churches in several ministerial roles from 1954-1961 including one four-year pastorate. Dunn finished his long educational journey in 1978 as a post-doctoral research scholar at the prestigious London School of Economics and Political Science.
Dunn’s work in the arena of public policy began to flourish when he served as director of the Texas Christian Life Commission (1966-1980). He attempted to “stir the consciences” of Texas Baptists regarding “applied Christianity.” Anchored upon the influence of T. B. Maston and J. M. Dawson, Dunn was involved in developing Baptist viewpoints on issues such as gambling, race relations, Christian citizenship, hunger, and religious liberty. Regarding his approach, Dunn commented, “In some areas-gambling, liquor, pornography-this agency has been hardline conservative. In others-concerns for victims of a rotten welfare system and for bilingual education-we have been wild-eyed liberals.” Dunn was a battler: “You could be wrong but you can’t be quiet. You can’t just shut up and let the other forces that would hurt people have their way.”
James Dunn and Soul Freedom
Ideas such as soul liberty and soul competency that had been trumpeted frequently in Baptist history found a home in the thought and rhetoric of James Dunn. Dunn became the heir of Edgar Young Mullins and those before him who insisted that freedom of the individual conscience and the emphasis upon direct personal experience of God without reliance upon ecclesiastical leaders were at the heart of the best of the Baptist tradition. In fact, Dunn’s work for an unfettered conscience, religious liberty for all, and the separation of church and state was especially rooted in his understanding of soul freedom. While prominent early twentieth century Southern Baptists E. Y. Mullins and G. W. Truett referred to “soul competency,” James Dunn again used the earlier Baptist language of “soul freedom.” Dunn believed, like Mullins did, that soul freedom, the key distinctive of Baptists and their greatest contribution to understanding the Christian faith, was simply the freedom, ability, and responsibility of each person to respond to God for herself or himself. This freedom implied the ability to have a personal relationship to Jesus Christ and the capacity to deal directly with God without a human mediator such as a priest or bishop. This is a gift from God. Throughout his career, Dunn has often described soul freedom as “the fire that burns in the innards of every true Baptist.” According to Dunn, since Thomas Helwys’ bold proclamation that “the king is not Lord of the conscience,” the hallmark of the people called Baptist is that “dogged determination to be free – free and faithful.”
For religious faith to be authentic, Dunn believes, it must be free and cannot be coerced. Citing E. Y. Mullins, Dunn declares that to deny a person direct access to God “is nothing less than tyranny.” The influence of Mullins and The Axioms of Religion on Dunn’s thought is undeniable. Dunn has credited Mullins with investing energy and meaning into the phrase “soul competency” and placing it at the center of a “coherent cluster of beliefs that define Baptists.” Like Mullins, Dunn also affirmed that the biblical revelation clearly pointed to the principle of soul freedom. He also agreed with Mullins that “the voluntary principle is at the heart of Christianity” and consequently “the right of private judgment in religion is a right that lies at the core of Christian truth.” Building on Mullins’ cornerstone that religious experience was the beginning point of understanding divine revelation, Dunn asserted that soul freedom is axiomatic, a self-evident truth “that when seen needs no proof of its reality.”
Dunn believes that soul freedom is based on a biblical view of persons. In the creation account found in Genesis 1:26-27, God called the first humans imago Dei which presupposes freedom. Regardless of how one reads the biblical description of creation, in Dunn’s view, it clearly suggests that all humans are moral beings, capable of responding to God. According to Dunn, whatever else the classical doctrine of imago Dei means, it reveals that persons, made by God, can respond to their Creator. “The roots of freedom are deep within the intimate personhood of God. All true freedom is in a real sense religious freedom. It is that which replicates the Divine in all of us that makes us response-able, responsible and free.”
Dunn’s view of soul freedom is far reaching and extends beyond personal morality and personal faith. As the ultimate source of all modern notions of human rights, it is the cornerstone that precedes and demands religious liberty and the separation of church and state for all persons in the political arena. It is the biblical and theological starting point from which religious liberty naturally follows. According to Dunn, “if we all, in some serious way, replicate God, religious liberty is a moral and social inevitability.”
Not surprisingly, James Dunn’s understanding of soul freedom has not been spared from criticism. Like E. Y. Mullins, Dunn too has been accused of promoting a radical form of unbounded individualism, a faith without authority. Nearly fifty years ago, Winthrop Hudson, an American Baptist historian, stated that “the practical effect of the stress upon ‘soul competency’ as the cardinal doctrine of Baptists was to make everyone’s hat their own church.” Other scholars have followed Hudson’s lead. Curtis Freeman has argued that James Dunn has abused individualism even further by turning “soul competency” into “sole competency.” Freeman claims that Dunn’s popular quip, “Ain’t nobody but Jesus goin’ to tell me what to believe,” quickly devolves into “Ain’t nobody goin’ to tell me what to believe” as the “me” becomes the exclusive arbiter of what Jesus is saying. Other scholars have made sweeping claims against the excessive individualism they find in Mullins and/or Dunn in attempts to chastise Baptists for a poor social ethic or a poor doctrine of ecclesiology.
However, Dunn has repeatedly refuted the criticism of his opponents that soul freedom leads to a hyper individualistic lone-ranger Christianity. He believes that the dichotomy of individual and community is a false one. The choice was not one over the other, but both together. Dunn contends that the desire for Christian community presupposes voluntary faith. According to Dunn, “The competence of the individual before God does not demand and in fact precludes Lone Ranger religion…no matter what critics left and right may say, autonomous individualism…does not mean that everyone’s church is one’s own hat. The longing for community and social Christianity presupposes voluntarism. Without individual autonomy, there can be no authentic community.”
One must remember that Dunn is not a systematic theologian. He is an activist for religious liberty. He has not written about community at length, but he has practiced it. Dunn is no “lone ranger” Christian. His audience is not simply Baptist individuals, but Baptist bodies (local churches and larger Baptist groups). His writings do reveal that he believes genuine voluntary individual faith leads a believer into the life of the church. He expects Baptists to use freedom responsibly and practice local church community. On one occasion, Dunn applauded the early writings of Jim Wallis which advocated an intentional community of communal discipleship. Dunn wrote, “No where have I seen a Baptist church that measures up to the vision of community held up by Wallis. Nor have I known a Baptist church that wouldn’t be a bit frightened by his idealism, nor one that couldn’t use a good dose of it.”
After serving as Executive-Director of the Baptist Joint Committee for 19 years, James Dunn “retired” in 1999 to his home in Winston-Salem, North Carolina where he serves as Resident Professor of Christianity and Public Policy at the Wake Forest University School of Divinity, still pushing for soul freedom, religious liberty, and the separation of church and state.
 Wendell Phillips, in The Home Book of Quotations, ed. Burton Egbert Stevenson (New York: Dodd & Mead, 1964), 1106.
 Walter B. Shurden, “James (Dunn) and John (Leland), Baptist Sons of Zebedee,” in James Dunn: Champion for Religious Liberty, ed. J. Brent Walker (Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, 1999), 109-122.
James M. Dunn, “Being Baptist,” in Baptists in the Balance, ed. Everett C. Goodwin (Valley Forge, PA: Judson Press, 1997), 219.
John Newport, “A Texas-Bred, Spirit-Led Baptist,” in James Dunn: Champion for Religious Liberty, ed. J. Brent Walker (Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, 1999), 18-26. See also James Dunn, e-mail message to author, January 21, 2008. Dunn began his professional ministerial service in 1954, serving as associate pastor at a Baptist church in Celina, Texas for a year and at First Baptist Church in Weatherford, Texas, from 1955 to 1958, and then as pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Weatherford, Texas from 1958 to 1961. In an interview with Dunn, he noted that he was the first pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church which began with just fifty-eight members and grew to two hundred members in just three years. The growth at Emmanuel included twenty-one baptisms.
James Dunn, telephone conversation with author, January 21, 2008. In 1978, Dunn was a research scholar at the London School of Economics and Political Science. He studied economics under Ian Roxborough and the sociology of religion under Eileen Barker.
James M. Dunn, “Christian Life Commission Report,” Annual of the Baptist General Convention of Texas (Dallas, TX: BGCT Press, 1971), 93-95.
Toby Druin, “Dunn – Off to Washington,” December 31, 1980, 5.
 Known as “Mr. Baptist,” E.Y. Mullins was a well-known Southern Baptist theologian. Princeton Seminary’s J. Gresham Machen described Mullins as the “spokesman not merely for the Southern Baptist Church [sic] or for the Baptist churches of America, but also to a considerable extent for the Baptist churches throughout the world.”
James M. Dunn, Soul Freedom: Baptist Battle Cry (Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, 2000), 63-65.
James M. Dunn, “Separating church, state, good for both,” Report from the Capital 50, no. 11 (November 14, 1995): 2.
James M. Dunn, “Church, State, and Soul Competency,” Review and Expositor 96, no. 1 (Winter 1999): 62.
Dunn, Soul Freedom: Baptist Battle Cry, 64.
Genesis 1:26-27 NRSV. “Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind* in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’ So God created humankind* in his image, in the image of God created them; male and female he created them.’ ”
James M. Dunn, “The Baptist Vision of Religious Liberty,” in Proclaiming the Baptist Vision: Religious Liberty, ed. Walter B. Shurden (Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, 1993), 32.
Dunn, Soul Freedom: Baptist Battle Cry, 7.
Dunn, “The Baptist Vision of Religious Liberty,” 33. See also Dunn, Soul Freedom: Baptist Battle Cry, 65.
Winthrop S. Hudson, “Shifting Patterns of Church Order in the Twentieth Century,” in Baptist Concepts of the Church, ed. Winthrop Still Hudson (Philadelphia: The Judson Press, 1959), 215.
Curtis W. Freeman, “E.Y. Mullins and the Siren Songs of Modernity,” Review and Expositor 96, no. 1 (Winter 1999): 41.
Charles Marsh, God’s Long Summer (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1997), 82-115. See also John Hammett, “From Church Competence to Soul Competence: The Devolution of Baptist Ecclesiology,” Journal for Baptist Theology an Ministry 3, no. 1 (Spring 2005): 145-163. Charles Marsh cited Douglas Hudgins’ as a minister who hid behind soul freedom to avoid addressing the issue of race during the 1950s and 1960s.
James M. Dunn, “Yes, I am a Baptist,” in Why I Am A Baptist: Reflections on Being Baptist in the 21st Century, ed. Cecil P. Staton Jr. (Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys Publishing, 1999), 46-47.
It’s time to stop the anti-Muslim hate speech. We begin with super-bigot demagogue Michael Savage. Yes, I believe in freech speech. Yes, I love Voltaire’s dictum, “I may disagree with everything you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” But we don’t have to pay for it. Hate speech creates an atmosphere of fear that leads to crimes created by a mob mentality. In the 1930s, Henry Ford bought a newspaper and used it to spew anti-Jewish propaganda–that was so vindictively anti-semitic that Adolf Hitler praised Henry Ford in Mein Kampf and later gave him a medal. The renegade Catholic priest, Fr. Joseph Coughlin, used a radio show to spew such anti-semitic bigotry across the airwaves. So successful was this anti-Jewish propaganda here in the land of the free that, even as the Nazis began their anti-Jewish campaigns in the ’30s, polls showed that 50% of Americans believed Jews brought at least some of this treatment on themselves! (Source for that statistic: The Jewish Americans series on PBS. It is worth watching.)
Now, this same kind of bigotry campaign is targetting Muslims. We cannot stand back and let it happen. Those of us who are Christians have specifically religious obligations to stop it: including the commands against bearing false witness, the commands to love neighbors and enemies, the command to treat others as we would want to be treated. Some of us come from traditions that have known our own persecution–and in that history we would have wanted others to speak out on our behalf. Now our Muslim sisters and brothers need that kind of courage from us. This is not about whose religion is right or wrong. This is not about questions of soteriology (exclusive, inclusive, etc.), but about simple truthtelling and defending the rights and dignity of our neighbors and fellow citizens.
We begin by taking on the demagogue Michael Savage. See the following video. Then go to NoSavage.org and take action: email him and call his talk show to protest. Contact his sponsors and urge them to pull out or we boycott their products–we do not have to pay for his hate speech. (One major sponsor has already pulled out.) Does Savage have free speech? Absolutely. In this country, he can spew whatever bile he wants without fear of arrest. But we DON’T have to give him a microphone. Do something. Fight back against this bile, now.
This weekend, 1-4 July, is a “blogswarm” known as “Blog Against Theocracy.” While I differ from some in not believing that most of the major figures in the U.S. Religious Right want a classic theocracy , an actual rule by a clerical elite, I do think there is a concerted effort to erode the historic separation of church and state in the U.S. The goal is to privilege Christian churches, especially fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals, and make others second-class citizens. One of the places where this is seen is in the Bush administration’s “Office of Faith-Based Initiatives” (expanding the Clintonian bad idea of “charitable choice”) in which the tax dollars of all U.S. citizens, Christian and non-Christian, religious and non-religious, are used to support certain religious programs (e.g., faith-based programs of prison reform, ministries to the poor and homeless, parochial schools, etc.). This allows the government to have bad social policies and spend a small amoung of money getting religious groups to clean up its messes instead of filling the social contract to forge a just and compassionate society itself. It also turns healthy, independent faith-based programs into unhealthy leeches with their hand out for Caesar’s coin, competing with each other for the crumbs from Caesar’s table instead of persuading their believers in the strength of the cause. And, of course, it throttles the prophetic voice of the churches since they won’t want to jeopardize their government funds!
Groups that promote religious liberty (and it’s legal safeguard, church-state separation), such as the Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the Baptist Joint Committee on Religious Liberty, Friends Committee on National Legislation, the American Civil Liberties Union, and others believe such government promotion of faith-based groups is unconstitutional. I agree. The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution begins, “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, nor prohibiting the free exercise thereof. . . ” Those two religion clauses, known as the (NO) Establishment Clause, and the Free Exercise Clause, respectfully, mean that the government can neither promote to retard religious faith and practice. The No Establishment Clause is sometimes interpreted narrowly as ruling out any official state religion (e.g., the way that the Church of England is the established church in the U.K. or the Lutheran Church established in Norway, etc.), but the clause actually forbids any law which even “respects” an establishment of religion–which promotes a particular faith or faith in general over unbelief. Government is not to be in the religion business. The Office of Faith-Based Initiatives seems to be a clear violation of the Constitution.
But the U.S. Supreme Court, under the new rightwing majority led by Bush-appointee Chief Justice Roberts, dealt a blow to the struggle for church-state separation this past week. In Hein v. Freedom from Religion Foundation, the Court threw out a challenge to this Office of Faith-Based Initiatives by a group of atheists, agnostics, etc. by saying that they had no legal standing to sue in this case because they were not directly enough involved! Now, why any group of taxpayers lacks “standing” to challenge the inappropriate use of tax revenues is beyond me. Who would have standing to challenge this clearly unconstitutional law? Does this decision also make it harder for ordinary citizens and taxpayers to challenge corporate or government malfeasance on other matters (no more Erin Brockovich?)?
Americans United believes the ruling, while disappointing, will not affect most challenges to the Office of Faith-Based Initiatives. The Baptist Joint Committee on Religious Liberty agrees. In its amicus brief (a “friend of the court” legal opinion offered by an outside party) on Hein, the BJC said, “When taxes levied and appropriated by Congress are spent in violation of the Establishment Clause, a taxpayer may constitutionally challenge such expenditures because he suffers a direct and concrete injury that is caused by the illegal expenditure and that would be redressed by enjoining it.” And when the dissapointing ruling came down, the BJC said, “It will be more difficult to challenge discretionary executive branch spending under the Establishment Clause. Nothing has changed when it comes to challenging the exercise of Congress’s taxing and spending powers to promote religion.”
But this ruling shows that, with the Bush appointments of Roberts and Alito to the high court, the theocrats (or theocrat lite-types) have strong allies. The strict separationists may now be in the minority on the Supreme Court. But the final bulwark for religious liberty is not Congress or the courts, but the people. We must be on guard for religious liberty–including liberty from religion for unbelievers (because faith must be free and uncoerced)–and this is best achieved when government is forbidden not only to hinder, but also to “aid” religious organizations through tax revenues.
True theocrats (e.g., the “dominionists” of the Christian Reconstruction movement) and their much more numerous allies in various “Christian nationalist” organizations are, in principle, no different from their Islamist counterparts who would undermine democracy in Muslim majority nations and seek to impose fundamentalist versions of Islamic religious law. We may be many steps away from Christian versions in the U.S. of Saudi Arabia’s “religious police,” but our history shows that we have been there before. I have no desire to return to the days when Quakers were hanged on Boston Commons, “witches” were burned at the stake in Salem, MA, and Baptists jailed throughout New England and Virginia for “preaching without a state license.” I don’t want to return to the days in the 19th C. when the U.S. government, in a strong “faith based initiative” paid Protestant missionaries to establish schools for Native Americans on the conditions that they be forbidden to use their native languages and forced to pray Christian prayers and be forcibly converted. I don’t want parochial schools funded with taxpayer money or evangelistic programs for prisoners promoted by the government. And I certainly don’t want the government copping out on its responsibilities (wasting billions in illegal wars, for instance) knowing that it can then count of religious groups to clean up its messes (somewhat) for much less revenue than it would take to keep the messes from happening! I don’t want the prophetic voices of faith-based communities bought off, either.
The Office of Faith-Based Initiatives, and its state counterparts, needs to be abolished.
I can express the compelling need for strict separation no clearer than in the words of the late George W. Truett, founding pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas and one time president of the Southern Baptist Convention. Truett also served at one point as president of the Baptist World Alliance (from which the SBC has now withdrawn) and Baylor University’s George W. Truett Theological Seminary is named in his honor. On 16 May 1920, on the steps of the U.S. Capitol, to a crowd of 15,000, Truett gave a stirring speech on religious liberty (reenacted this past Friday by a number of Baptists from different denominations supporting the work of the Baptist Joint Committee on Religious Liberty) which included these words:
“It is not the prerogative of any power, whether civil or ecclesiastical, to compel men[sic] to conform to any religious creed or form of worship, or to pay taxes for the support of a religious organization to which they do not believe,” he said. “God wants free worshippers and no other kind.”
As reported by Bill Prescott, Jeph Holloway, Prof. of Religion at East Texas Baptist University, has a column in The Baptist Standard defending traditional Baptist support in the U.S. for both the Free Exercise and No Establishment clauses of the First Amendment. For non-American readers, that translates to his defense of the right of all people to follow their consciences in matters of religious belief and worship and defending the institutional separation of religion from the machinery of government so that government neither promotes nor hinders religious practice.
The sad thing for me is that Holloway even has to make such a defense. As he rightly points out (citing the excellent book by historian William R. Estep, Revolution within the Revolution), Baptists, following the Anabaptists a century earlier, played large roles in the 17th & 18th Centuries leading to the adoption of the First Amendment’s guarantees of religious liberty and church-state separation. Yet concern for “moral decline” has led to a sitution where, if the First Amendment were up for a vote today, Holloway argues, many Baptists would lead a charge against it. I think he’s right. He believes that they would “only” want to end the No Establishment clause, but I think there is strong evidence that many, mistakenly believing the U.S. to be a “Christian nation” (rather than a nation with a large Christian population), would also act to restrict the religious liberty of others—perhaps, like many European countries, requiring religious groups to register with the government and banning some religions from practice in the country.
This is a betrayal of our heritage and of the risen Christ’s command to spread the gospel only by noncoercive means. When we were a small, persecuted, sect, Baptist support for EVERYONE’S religious liberty was strong. Now that we are the largest Protestant grouping in the U.S. (though split into many conventions, etc.), many of us have adopted the “majoritarian” mindset that was once used against us. Shame.