Open House at the new Baptist Joint Committee on Religious LibertyWritten by Don Byrd

Earlier this week, Americans United presented the Baptist Joint Committee’s retiring executive director, Brent Walker, with their “Person of the Year” award. Now, in the newest issue of AU’s publication, Church & State, features an interview with Walker. It serves as a great overview of he and the BJC’s views on a variety of religious liberty issues. My favorite segment, however, comes from his memory of the 1998 battle over a constitutional amendment proposed by Rep. Ernest Istook (R-OK). 

Here is how Walker describes it:

Two anecdotes come to mind. First, I recall the “Istook is Mistook” buttons that we all wore in our lobbying efforts. The phrase was coined by Forest Montgomery, the general counsel of the National Association of Evangelicals. Forest, who sadly passed away just this past year, stood firm in his opposition to this tinkering with the First Amendment – facing down, I am sure, a lot of constituent pressure to support the measure. Forest was one-of-a-kind and a dear friend – to me and to religious liberty.

The other somewhat humorous anecdote came when I was called to appear on the “PBS News­ Hour,” along with Rep. Istook, Sen. Patrick Leahy, and [Religious Right figure] Rob Schenck. I arrived at the studio early, as did Rep. Istook. When he learned that I was a Baptist, he immediately assumed I was on his side of the issue. He gushed about how important the measure was and how glad he was that Baptists supported it. After I disabused him of that “mistooken” notion, he was quite chagrined and clammed up until we went on the air.

If you are a Baptist who believes in the separation of church and state, you have probably had the experience of having to explain to someone how both of those things can be true. It must have been fun to explain to a member of Congress that his assumption about the beliefs of Baptists was well off the mark!

Read the whole interview.