What a Touchy Subject! – By J. Brent Walker
The First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States asserts that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." The initial statement of this amendment boldly asserts that religious freedom is the "first freedom" of the American people. The BJC stands guard, defending the first freedom of the First Amendment.
Brent Walker identifies the historical and theological principles that undergird freedom of religion. In doing so, he challenges the myth that religious freedom and church-state separation are rooted only in the ideas of the Enlightenment. Religious persons with spiritual convictions preceded the Enlightenment years, though most Enlightenment leaders certainly embraced and advocated religious freedom. The three lectures found in this book shed some light on this touchy subject and to clear up some misconceptions that exacerbate what are perceived to be great differences in our understanding and appreciation of this very important topic.
The first lecture, titled “First Principles: God-Given, But Government Protected,” explores theological and historical underpinnings to the topic. In the second lecture, titled “First Freedom: Accommodate Religion, But Don’t Advance It,” Walker moves beyond the theological and historical realms to talk about constitutional aspects. Lecture three, titled “Religion and Politics: How Did We Do in 2012?” focuses to Article VI of the Constitution and its prohibition on religious tests for public office.
J. Brent Walker
Walker was executive director of BJC (Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty) in Washington, D.C., from 1999 to 2016. He was BJC’s associate general counsel and then general counsel prior to 1999. Following his retirement, he served as interim president of the John Leland Center for Theological Studies from 2017-2018.