BY DAKOTA O'LEARY
ON APRIL 13, 2013 AT 1:25 PM
Reverend Dr. C. Weldon Gaddy, president of the Interfaith Alliance, a nonpartisan, grassroots organization that champions religious freedom, has had enough of attempts in this country by various conservative politicians to demonize one religion (or atheists) while proclaiming religious freedom for another. Namely, Dr. Gaddy is calling a spade a spade and says that the state of North Carolina, after a disastrously failed attempt by the North Carolina GOP to make Christianity the official religion of the state (the NC Speaker of the House killed it), can't use the phrase"religious freedom" in order to persecute and suppress religions they don't like or do not understand. In an editorial for the NC News-Observer, he explains that this attempt to make Christianity the official religion of NC, in violation of the Constitution is nothing more than an excuse to justify religious bigotry:
It is becoming increasingly clear that some members of the N.C. General Assembly are in critical need of a refresher course on the meaning of religious freedom.
When asked by a constituent whether she would support a Muslim offering a prayer before the state legislature, Rep. Michele Presnell responded by saying, “No, I do not condone terrorism.” She went on to justify her position by saying we “need to start taking a stand on our religious freedom or it will be whisked away from us.”
Presnell’s comments follow the just-quashed attempt to enable North Carolina to establish an official religion in clear violation of the U.S. Constitution – again under the guise of religious freedom. These preposterous acts show no grasp of the reality of a historic understanding ofthe meaning of religious freedom and show how desperately we need to improve education on the meaning and importance of religious freedom in our nation.
In fact, Presnell’s comments contribute to a climate in which more and more attempts are made to “whisk” away the religious freedom of American Muslims. Make no mistake, the rights of other minority religions would fall quickly in the environment sought by this North Carolina legislator.
Already American Muslim communities have had to fight tooth and nail for permits to build mosques against pushback from their neighbors; once built, their mosques and religious schools have been vandalized and attacked. Hate crimes are still being committed against individuals who so much as “look Muslim.” Is that religious freedom? Is that what Presnell desires for all religions?
It is my duty as a religious leader, as a defender of religious freedom and simply as an American citizen concerned with the future of our democracy to remind Americans that being a Muslim is not synonymous with being a terrorist and supporting the American Muslim community’s right to worship is not synonymous with supporting terrorism. The time is long past for us to stop demonizing this American faith community and judging a faith practiced by billions by those who twist and misappropriate its teachings to serve their violent goals.
Presnell and I agree that we must always take a stand for our religious freedom – and I truly mean “our,” collectively. As a Baptist, I cannot fight just for my own freedom to worship. I fight for my Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, Christian (and the list goes on) sisters’ and brothers’ rights as well – and the rights of those who choose not to worship. That is the inclusion at the heart of what our First Amendment-given religious freedom means.
To tell the truth, religious freedom has always been in need of defending in America. But a bill that could have led to a statewide-established religion, a bill that sought to “defend” religion against a spate of court cases invalidating several North Carolina county boards’ practices of opening sessions with (almost exclusively Christian) prayers harms religious freedom vastly more than protects it.
Neither my Christian faith nor my religious freedom is in any way threatened by these court cases. Legislative prayers, if they are to continue, should be nonsectarian and inclusive. Here again, having such prayers delivered by clergy of other faiths in no way threatens my faith.
Baptists have traditionally fought for religious freedom. Of all religious sects in America, Baptists were the most persecuted from the 18th century onwards, because their religious practices were not in line with the established Puritan faith, and used their persecution to become the most vociferous champions of religious freedom and separation of church and state. Examples of the type of persecution Baptists endured in America during this time follow, listing just a few injustices:
II. Baptist Persecutions in Virginia
A. Baptists entered Virginia in early 18th century
B. First Virginia Baptists thrown in jail in Spotsylvania in 1768, for refusing to stop preaching, cited with disturbing the peace (John Waller, Lewis Craig, James Childs)
C. Imprisonment of Baptists continued until at least 1778, for periods of up to 5 months
D. Baptists accused of child abuse (because they did not baptize their children as infants), Baptist marriages not recognized
E. Persecutions included (from court records, as compiled by Lewis Peyton Little, Imprisoned Preachers and Religious Liberty in Virginia):
"pelted with apples and stone"
"ducked and nearly drowned by 20 men"
"commanded to take a dram, or be whipped"
" jailed for permitting a man to pray"
"meeting broken up by a mob"
"arrested as a vagabond and schismatic"
"pulled down and hauled about by hair"
"tried to suffocate him with smoke"
"tried to blow him up with gun powder"
"drunken rowdies put in same cell with him"
"horses ridden over his hearers at jail"
"dragged off stage, kicked, and cuffed about"
"shot with a shot-gun"
" ruffians armed with bludgeons beat him"
"severely beaten with a whip"
"whipped severely by the Sheriff"
"hands slashed while preaching"
Baptist Distinctives.org explains the historically Baptist position on separation of church and state based on Biblical teaching (a marked difference than the overt efforts to align fundamentalist Christianity with American government and deny separation of church and state as has been done by the Southern Baptist Convention and pseudo-historian/revisionist David Barton:
The Bases for a Free Church in a Free State
For Baptists, the concept of a free church in a free state rests not on political theory nor on human documents but on the word of God. The Baptist belief in religious freedom and its corollary, the separation of the institutions of church and state, come from the Baptist commitment to the authority of the Bible.
What is meant by the terms “church” and “state”? The term “state” refers to governments. The Bible indicates that governments are ordained by God to provide law and order (Romans 13:1-5). Government leaders are to act for the benefit of the citizens (1 Peter 2:13-14). Baptists and other Christians are to honor and pray for government officials (1 Timothy 2:1-3; 1 Peter 2:17), pay taxes (Matthew 22:17-22; Romans 13:6-7) and obey the government except when obedience would be clearly contrary to God’s will (Acts 4:19-20; 5:29). Historically, Baptists have affirmed their loyalty to the state.
The term “church” refers to religious organizations. For Baptists, this includes both local congregations and various entities established for religious purposes, such as associations, conventions, schools and institutions for ministry. Baptists teach that the nature of “church” is to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ (Acts 1:8), to teach doctrine and develop believers (Matthew 28:19-20; Ephesians 4:11-13) and to minister in Christ’s name (Matthew 25:31-46). The church is to rely on the sword of the Spirit and not the sword of the government in c a rrying out its mission.
Ideally, the relation of church and state is mutually beneficial. For example, the state is to provide order and safety; these are useful to the church in carrying out its mission (Acts 13-16). And the church contributes to a positive social order by helping to develop law-abiding, hard-working, honest citizens (Ephesians 4:24-32; 1 Peter 2:11-17).
Baptists contend that this mutual benefit works best when the institutions of church and state are separate and when neither seeks to control the other. The state is not to dictate doctrine, worship style, organization, membership or personnel for leadership to the church. The church is not to seek the power or the financial support of the state for spiritual ends. Such is the model set forth in the New Testament.
The very nature of the gospel and of church calls for such a relationship. The Bible reveals that humans are created by God with a competency to know and follow his will (Genesis 1:27). Following God’s will should be a free choice, not coerced by either church or state. Salvation in Christ is the result of free choice to believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior (John 3:16; Ephesians 2:8-10). Thus, neither church nor state should ever interfere with the free proclamation of the gospel or with the freedom of people to accept or reject it.
Likewise, churches ought to be composed of people who have freely chosen to be baptized and to congregate (Acts 2:41-42). People should support the churches by voluntary contributions of tithes and offerings (2 Corinthians 8:1-15). Only Jesus is to be Lord, never any government or ecclesiastical organization (Ephesians 4:11-16; Philippians 2:8-11).