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Guidelines offered for religion in public square
Bob Allen, Associated Baptist Press
January 20, 2010
3 MIN READ TIME

Guidelines offered for religion in public square

Guidelines offered for religion in public square
Bob Allen, Associated Baptist Press
January 20, 2010

WASHINGTON — A diverse group of religious and secular

leaders unveiled

a joint statement

Jan. 12 aimed at advancing public understanding about legal rights and

limitations on religious expression in the public square.

Led by Wake Forest University Divinity School’s Center

for Religion and Public Affairs, the document does not

advocate what the law should be, but discusses what it actually says. The

project evolved from a 2006 meeting

where experts, discussing earlier joint statements that helped advance public

understanding of rules governing religion in public schools, suggested a

consensus statement of what current law says about religious expression in the

wider public square, including religion and politics; religious gatherings on

governmental property; chaplains in legislative bodies, prisons and the

military; and religion in the workplace.

“The drafters’ purpose in crafting this statement is to help

foster an accurate understanding of current law and improve our national

dialogue on these issues,” said Melissa Rogers, who directs Wake Forest’s

Center for Religion and Public Affairs. “While there is disagreement among them

about the merits of some of the court decisions and laws mentioned in the

document, they agree that current law protects the rights of people to express

their religious convictions and practice their faiths on government property

and in public life as described in the statement.”

Signers

represent a wide swath of Christian, Jewish and Muslim life. Baptists

supporting the project include both Richard Land of the Southern Baptist

Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, and Brent Walker and

Holly Hollman of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty.

Rogers said the diverse group often disagrees how the law

should affect issues regarding the intersection of religion and government.

Some support overturning laws and court decisions cited in the document, while

others agree with them. Despite those differences, she said, they agree in many

cases on where the law stands today.

“More broadly, they also agree that religious liberty, or

freedom of conscience, is a fundamental, inalienable right for all people,

religious and nonreligious, and that there is a need to correct

misunderstandings about this right,” she said.

The statement said legal rights and responsibilities

regarding religious expression in public life are often poorly understood, and

the document is an attempt to remedy that problem.

According to the document, the drafters’ purpose in crafting

the statement is to provide an accurate understanding of current law.

“We also hope our efforts to find consensus will spur others

to engage one another in similar efforts and find common ground,” the drafters

continued.

The signers said they hope that their attempt to describe

current law as accurately as possible will play a positive role in future

debate. “That certainly will not end our debates, but it will help make them

more productive,” the document says.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Allen is senior writer for Associated

Baptist Press.)