January 20 2010 by Bob Allen, Associated Baptist Press

    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.)  
    1/20/2010 5:53:00 AM by Bob Allen, Associated Baptist Press | with 0 comments




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