Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Religious Minorities and Religious Freedom

The Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Freedom (BJC) is a Washington DC-based advocacy organization that fights for the religious liberty of all, working with other Christian groups as well as with Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and other religious and non-religious groups. The BJC traces its roots to 1936 as the Southern Baptist Committee on Public Relations. After joining forces with American and National Baptists, the committee established offices in Washington, D.C., in 1946 and became the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs. In 2005, the BJC name changed to the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty to more accurately reflect its focus on religious liberty issues.

Although it may come as a surprise to some, but Baptists have long been advocates of religious liberty. For example, the Baptist preacher (and abolitionist) John Leland was a well-known proponent of religious liberty. He once wrote (found at Wikipedia)
  • The notion of a Christian commonwealth should be exploded forever...Government should protect every man in thinking and speaking freely, and see that one does not abuse another. The liberty I contend for is more than toleration. The very idea of toleration is despicable; it supposes that some have a pre-eminence above the rest to grant indulgence, whereas all should be equally free, Jews, Turks, Pagans and Christians. - A Chronicle of His Time in Virginia
  • Every man must give account of himself to God, and therefore every man ought to be at liberty to serve God in a way that he can best reconcile to his conscience. If government can answer for individuals at the day of judgment, let men be controlled by it in religious matters; otherwise, let men be free. - Right of Conscience Inalienable
Leland also supported James Madison because of Madison's support for what became the First Amendment and he helped found several of the Baptist congregations in Connecticut, to which President Jefferson wrote his famous letter regarding religious freedom (and includes the line, "wall of separation"). Indeed, his tombstone reads, "Here lies the body of John Leland, of Cheshire, who labored 67 years to promote piety and vindicate the civil and religious rights of all men."

The support of Baptists for religious liberty should not come as a surprise, however. Like many religious groups, they were at one time a religious minority, and religious minorities are often the strongest advocates for religious liberty because they often lack it.

The role of religious minorities in the founding of the U.S. is the subject of a recent Research on Religion podcast ("Mark David Hall on Religious Minorities in the U.S. Founding"). Host Tony Gill's guest this time is Mark David Hall, who is a professor at George Fox University (Quaker) and recently published a co-edited volume with Daniel Dreisbach on Faith and the Founders of the American Republic. The book serves as the basis for the interview, which, aside for a brief moment when Gill extols the virtues of Seattle Seahawk Richard Sherman, is excellent and informative. You can download it from iTunes or listen to it at the Research on Religion website ("Mark David Hall on Religious Minorities in the U.S. Founding").

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