American flag waving in blue skyWritten by Don Byrd

The Baptist Joint Committee’s Brent Walker hailed the current strength of our free exercise and church autonomy protections, but warned that we are “doing terribly and losing ground” with respect to the Establishment Clause. 

Aaron Weaver’s report on the event for CBFblog included Walker’s Establishment Clause concerns:

He cited the Supreme Court’s 5-4 Town of Greece decision that affirmed the small New York state town’s practice of beginning its municipal meetings with a sectarian prayer. Walker distinguished the town’s policy with that of prayers that open up sessions of the U.S. Congress.

“The chaplains’ prayer [before the Congress] is for the body of the legislators,” Walker explained. “That’s completely different than in the [Town of] Greece — and at most local city council meetings — where the public is there not to just watch up in the galleries but to participate, to testify before the council…to get a zoning variance or business license. We took the position that — in that context — it was impermissibly coercive to require those folks to undergo or to experience and participate in a state-sponsored religious exercise as a ticket to exercise and perform their civic responsibilities.”

Walker made the remarks at an event titled “Baptist Voices on Religious Liberty: Left, Right, and Center” at the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, along with Suzii Paynter of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, Dr. Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention, and others. 

Read a run-down of the speakers’ presentations here.