Okay — time for some shameless self-promotion.
My friend Johnny Pierce and the good folks at Nurturing Faith (NurturingFaith.net) in Macon, Ga., have published the 8th Annual Shurden Lectures that I delivered last year at my law school alma mater, Stetson University in DeLand, Fla.
Baptist Joint Committee supporters and the readers of this column know that the annual lectureship funded by the generous endowment established by Buddy and Kay Shurden is one of the BJC’s mainstay efforts to educate college students and others in university communities about religious liberty and the separation of church and state. With this new publication, titled What a Touchy Subject! Religious Liberty and Church-State Separation, I hope to reach students in many schools, colleges and seminaries, as well as Baptists and others in churches everywhere.
In these lectures, I did not attempt to break new ground in church-state law or to discuss cutting-edge esoterica. Rather, the three hour-long lectures and discussion — now in 35 pages — provide a basic, practical primer on understanding the relevant antecedents to today’s religious liberty landscape, how that liberty is protected by constitutional constructs (mostly the First Amendment), and why the separation of church and state does not foreclose religion and religious ethics from influencing public policy or ban talking about it in the public square and in electoral campaigns.
In the lecture titled “First Principles: God-Given, But Government Protected,” I explore theological and historical underpinnings to the topic. I talk about scriptural passages, generative ideas in our Baptist heritage and events in American history that serve to inform our understanding of religious liberty, as well as the critical importance of the institutional and functional separation between church and state to ensure that freedom.
In the next lecture, titled “First Freedom: Accommodate Religion, But Don’t Advance It,” I move beyond that underlayment to talk about constitutional matters. Having discussed first principles, I talk about the first freedom — that is, the First Amendment’s two religion clauses. They protect religious liberty and are also “first” because they are listed in the first 16 words, ahead of the protections for freedom of speech, press, petition and assembly. I emphasize the importance of having a strong Free Exercise Clause and a strong Establishment Clause, the limits to accommodation of religion by government, and then some current issues we face at the Baptist Joint Committee and across our nation.
With the final lecture, titled “Religion and Politics: How Did We Do in 2012?” I shift focus from the religion clauses in the First Amendment to Article VI of the Constitution itself and its ban on any religious test for public office. I describe how to go about both upholding the separation of church and state and affirming the relevance of religion to public life, while seeking to honor the letter and spirit of the ban on religious tests. Then, I reflect on how we measured up in the 2012 election cycle.
In addition to the three lectures, the book concludes with a 24-page appendix of information about the BJC, the Shurden Lectures series itself and materials about religion and political campaigns.
You can pick up a copy of What a Touchy Subject! Religious Liberty and Church-State Separation as an electronic book or as a printed publication. Visit www.NurturingFaith.net for a link to purchase an e-book, or order a printed copy from BarnesandNoble.com or Amazon.com by visiting those sites and searching for “J. Brent Walker.” Whether you are new to the BJC or have been advocating for religious freedom for a lifetime, this book is meant to provide a baseline understanding of the issues we face every day at the Baptist Joint Committee. I hope you enjoy it!
From the March 2014 Report from the Capital. Click here for the next article.