If you haven’t read the headline article from the Jan. 12 issue of Associated Baptist Press, you should. It announces the release of “an unprecedented consensus statement aimed at advancing public understanding of — and preventing needless controversy over — the legal issues around religious expression in the public square.”
The 32-page statement was drafted by a disparate group of experts in the field of public policy and religion, brought together through the auspices of the Wake Forest University Divinity School‘s Center for Religion and Public Affairs, which is led by Melissa Rogers, former legal counsel fo the Baptist Joint Committee on Religious Liberty.
The panel included members as diverse as Brent Walker of the Baptist Joint Committee and Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention‘s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. Colby May of the conservative American Center for Law and Justice was on the panel, as was Jeremy Gunn, formerly with the American Civil Liberties Union. In addition to Christians of various stripes, the panel included representatives from Jewish, Muslim, and Sikh faith traditions.
Here’s the important thing: panelists acknowledged that they disagreed in some areas about what they believe the law should be, but came to a consensus understanding of what the law is as it relates to religious liberty. Following an introductory section, the statement raises and responds to 35 important questions relative to religious liberty and the law, citing both the Constitution and case law to support the response to each question.
Questions range from “May the government require individuals to pass a religious test in order to hold office?” (no) to “Is the motto ‘In God we trust’ found on our money unconstitutional?” (no) to “May religious organizations apply for licenses to operate radio and television stations?” (yes) to “May public schools teach about religion?” (neutral education, yes; indoctrination, no). Some crucial questions weren’t designed for up or down answers: “What kinds of activities are prohibited by the ban on religious discrimination as applied to the secular non-governmental workplace?” “What are some ways in which students may express their faith in public elementary and secondary schools?”
Readers may or may not like all of the answers, but they can read in confidence that the statement gives a fair representation of the law as it now stands with regard to religious freedom. The statement, in a slick pdf format with convenient internal links, is well worth downloading to your hard drive and saving to an appropriate place. School and government officials, pastors and religious leaders, and any other folk who want to discuss matters of religious liberty intelligently will want to download and keep the statement handy as a helpful resource for years to come.
Congratulations and thanks to the many people who worked hard to produce this statement: they’ve accomplished an important service for the American people.
The statement is on my hard drive: is it on yours?