Rep.  Chet Edwards

Rep. Chet Edwards represents President George Bush's home district (including Crawford, Texas) in the United States House of Representatives. A moderate who considers himself a bridge-builder between left and right, and a Methodist who attends the Calvary Baptist Church in Waco, Texas, Rep. Edwards is a staunch supporter of the separation of church and state.

Toby Druin of The Baptist Standard interviewed the Representative in 2003, and asked him some important questions.  A couple of these questions and answers are below:

_ What are you trying to accomplish as a member of the United States House of Representatives?
___Several things. First, I want to protect the principle of church-state separation, which is embedded in the first 16 words of the Bill of Rights. Second, I want to play a role in educating members of Congress and the American people to the fact that church-state separation was designed to protect religion, not harm it. It seems that every generation in Congress makes an effort to assault the role of separation of church and state. It requires re-education that the reason our founding fathers believed in church-state separation was that they felt religion should be on a pedestal far above the reach of politicians and government. They erected the wall of separation out of reverence for religion, not animosity against it.

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How do you account for the erosion in the commitment to church-state separation among some Baptists and other groups?
___The reason there have been so many attacks on the wall of separation is that there is a rightful sense that we need to return to core religious values and truths. That is the right end, but getting government involved in the process is absolutely wrong in achieving that end. All of human history shows that getting government involved hurts religion, not helps it.
___Some are motivated by the right reasons, but other political officials understand it strengthens their image with some groups if they push a religious cause. I don't see where having government funding helps churches. It can only hurt religion and cause religious dissension. Those who tried to change the Bill of Rights found it politically expedient, and because of my opposition to it in my recent campaign, 10 mailings involving some 500,000 pieces of mail said I opposed children praying.
___I assume the National Republican Campaign Committee felt it helpful to misrepresent my position, but it is ironic that some people break the ninth commandment to try to accomplish their purpose. I consider it most gratifying that the people of my district had better sense than to believe it.
___I absolutely support voluntary school prayer but vehemently oppose government-sanctioned, organized school prayer. I have decided that protecting religious freedom is far more important to me than an election, however. If losing votes is the price of my protecting religious freedom, it is a small price to pay.

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How important is religious faith in your personal life and as a congressman?
___It is a central part of my life and of my family's values. I was born and raised in the Methodist church, but 10 years ago I married a Baptist preacher's daughter, and though I am still a Methodist today, our family has attended Baptist churches in Virginia and Texas the last 10 years.
___One of the challenges is trying to set a good Christian example in public office without wearing religion on my sleeve. I think it is sacrilege when politicians use religion to their own political ends. That demeans religion. It is a constant struggle trying to set a good Christian example and trying to reach out to others with my faith while not showing disrespect by furthering my own political ends.
___Dr. Reynolds reminded me that St. Francis of Assisi said we should always preach the gospel and, if necessary, use words. One of the challenges of a person of faith was expressed by Sen. Sam Nunn of Georgia in the early 1990s when he said he had always struggled about which sins, based on his personal faith, did he have a right to turn into crimes using the power of government.

Read the full interview at http://www.baptiststandard.com/2003/1_6/pages/edwards.html

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The following is text from a speech Rep. Edwards gave on November 19, 2003.

Edwards' Floor Speech on Religious Freedom

Mr. Speaker:

I rise in support of H.Res.423, which recognizes the 5th anniversary of the signing of the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998. Religious freedom should be a fundamental right for every citizen of the world. This resolution urges a "renewed commitment to eliminating violations of the internationally recognized right to freedom of religion". I strongly agree that we should make that renewed commitment, and I imagine this resolution will pass unanimously in the House today.

Earlier this morning a number of House Members rightfully criticized religious bigotry and discrimination in Viet Nam and Cambodia, as well as in other parts of the world. I applaud my colleagues for saying the world should not tolerate torture, imprisonment and murder of people simply because of their personal religious faith. I am also deeply grateful to live in the United States, where we do not imprison citizens, because their religious faith is different from others.

I believe perhaps America's greatest single contribution to the world from our experiment in democracy is our model of religious freedom and tolerance. The foundation of that religious freedom is the principle of separation of church and state, imbedded in the first 16 words of our Bill of Rights: "Congress shall pass no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof."

In his letter to the Danbury Baptists of Connecticut in 1802, Thomas Jefferson expressed his belief that the principle of church-state separation is one of the most sacred of our founding principles.

Unfortunately, many Americans today have come to perceive that separation of church and state implies disrespect for religion. Nothing could be further from the truth as Jefferson stated over a century ago.

Separation of church and state does not mean keeping people of faith out of government. Rather, it means keeping government out of our faith. By passing language saying "Congress shall pass no law respecting an establishment of religion", known as the Establishment Clause, our founding fathers were putting religion on a pedestal so high that the hands of government and politicians could not reach it.

Our founding fathers were right. Separation of church and state in America has led to more religious freedom, vitality and tolerance than in any other nation in the world, perhaps throughout the history of the world. Most nations have gotten it wrong, because they have tried to use the power of government to fund religion. With that funding has come regulation of religion and, ultimately, the result has been intolerance against the rights of religious minorities. While I am deeply grateful for our religious freedom in America, I am also deeply disturbed by recent Bush Administration regulations and proposed laws that would limit the religious freedom of American citizens. It would be ironic and tragic for Members of Congress to be pushing for more religious freedom abroad while allowing religious freedom to be denied here at home.

Let me be specific. This resolution says, and I quote, "Whereas the right to freedom of religion is expressed in the Declaration on the Elimination of All Forms of Intolerance and Discrimination Based on Religion or Belief" Instead of eliminating all forms of intolerance and discrimination based on religion or belief, the Bush Administration actually supports using federal tax dollars to subsidize religious discrimination. This is known as their so-called Charitable Choice proposals.

Under Bush Administration proposals, an American citizen can be fired from a federally funded job solely because of his or her religious faith. Let me repeat that.

Under Bush Administration proposals, an American citizen can be fired from a federally funded job solely because of his or her religious faith.

The Administration, for example, would allow a group associated with Bob Jones University to accept $1 million in federal funds to run a jobs training program, and with part our taxpayers' money, they could print a sign saying, No Jews or Catholics need apply here for a federally funded job.

To allow and to actually subsidize such religious discrimination when using Americans' tax dollars is offensive. It is wrong and it is unconstitutional.

We all know why, for example, a Baptist Church can hire a Baptist minister with their own money to carry out that church's spiritual mission.

However, long-standing federal policy has been that when organizations receive tax dollars, they cannot discriminate in job hiring based simply on a person's religious faith.

President Bush's Administration wants to change that policy for billions of tax dollars and for potentially hundreds of federally funded jobs.

I believe the Administration's position flies in the face of this resolution, the Bill of Rights and Americans' personal religious freedom.

No American citizen should have to pass someone else's religious test to qualify for a federally funded job. Not one American.

Mr. Speaker, it is right for House Members to stand up for religious freedom in other nations, but I would suggest we should more carefully examine how Bush administration policies will lead to religious discrimination here at home. If Americans are denied the right to a federally funded job, the chance to feed their families, simply because someone doesn't like their religious faith, then they are being denied the exercise of their religious freedom. Perhaps most Americans to date have not been concerned about these so-called Charitable Choice proposals for two reasons. First, they are not aware of these proposals. Second, most Americans consider religious freedom to be a right protected by our 1st Amendment. But, in the years ahead, when dozens, then hundreds, and ultimately thousands of Americans are denied a job simply because of their personal religious faith, Americans will be outraged and ask how did this type of religious discrimination occur here, in the land of the free. In my religious faith, it is said that we should take the log out of our own eye before pointing out the speck in someone else's eye.

That leads me to believe that, while we are right today to condemn religious discrimination in other nations, we should stop subsidizing religious discrimination here in America.

When we say in this resolution, "Whereas all governments should provide and protect religious liberty" perhaps it would be good for us to practice what we preach.

Religious freedom is a cherished right of American citizens. We should stop Bush Administration proposals that would put that sacred right at risk.

 
 

2 Comments

  1. Sara Murray says:

    Representative Chet Edwards seems a little flaky to me; he has all these ideals about American policy but is not quite prepared to throw weight behind the theory that America is or is not a Christian nation.

  2. Sara Murray says:

    Representative Chet Edwards seems a little flaky to me; he has all these ideals about American policy but is not quite prepared to throw weight behind the theory that America is or is not a Christian nation.

 
 
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