Seventh Day Baptists are important to the religious liberty movement!

Seventh Day Baptists are important to the religious liberty movement!

Apr 21, 2016

by J. Brent Walker

Executive Director

Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty

Religious liberty is important to Seventh Day Baptists, first of all, because you are Baptists. Ever since the early 17th century, we Baptists have championed religious freedom for others as much as for ourselves. From John Smyth in Holland, to Thomas Helwys in England, to Roger Williams in New England, we Baptists have stood firmly to declare that matters of the spirit should be of no concern of the magistrate. While we render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and are good citizens, we know our allegiance to God is paramount. During the colonial era, Isaac Backus and John Leland lobbied for spelled-out protections for the exercise of religion and against religious establishments in the Bill of Rights — to use Roger William’s words, that “hedge or wall of separation between the garden of the church and the wilderness of the world.”

Brent Walker

For the past 80 years, the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty has carried forth that effort to defend and extend religious liberty — not just for Baptists but for all children of God. Serving 15 Baptist bodies, including the Seventh Day Baptist General Conference, the Baptist Joint Committee files briefs in the U.S. Supreme Court, keeps a watchful eye on Congress, advises the administrations as they come and go, and provides education resources highlighting the importance of religious liberty, including through social media.

Seventh Day Baptists also are concerned about religious liberty, because you are Seventh Day Baptists. With your roots in England but, on this side of the Atlantic, from Stephen Mumford at Newport, RI, in 1672, you have carried forward a banner of religious liberty along with first-day Baptists. Seventh Day Baptists, perhaps, are greater beneficiaries of the fight for religious liberty than some other Baptists. Your relatively small size in number makes the counter-majoritarian protections in the First Amendment all the more important to you. And, as a result of your special sabbatarian concerns, Seventh Day Baptists rarely take religious liberty for granted. You know what it is like to be out of step with a culture that sometimes accommodates first-day worshippers, but which plans almost everything under the sun on Saturday.

We at the Baptist Joint Committee have been privileged to enjoy your partnership since 1963. We have considered it a great honor to work alongside great Seventh Day Baptists like Senator Jennings Randolph, Leon Maltby, Duane Hurley, Leon Lawton, Ken Chroniger, Dale Thorngate, Kevin Butler, Rob Appel, Nick Kersten and many others.

In addition to spearheading general religious liberty protections — landmark legislation such as the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the Equal Access Act — the Baptist Joint Committee has supported matters of special interest to

Seventh Day Baptists. These include: advocacy for the Workplace Religious Freedom Act to strengthen protections in Title VII for religious accommodation in the workplace; the fight along with attorney Gerald Grimaud against insensitive Sabbath scheduling of college athletics; advice to Cheri Appel concerning Sabbath issues that arose in the public school system where she worked; and recently filing a brief in the U.S. Supreme Court supporting heightened protection for religious expression in the workplace, resulting in a 8-1 victory, in Abercrombie & Fitch v. EEOC (2015).

In sum, both the Seventh Day Baptist General Conference and the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty are integral partners in the struggle for religious freedom. Your joining with millions of Baptists from 14 other participating Baptist bodies dramatically heightens your influence in something that benefits all of us: the enjoyment of God-given freedom for which Christ has set us free, as protected from governmental meddling by constitutional boundaries.

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