Today, Friday, August 22, 2008, the country is waiting to hear who Barack Obama has chosen as his running mate. One of the names that is surfacing is 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.
The following is text from a speech Rep. Edwards gave on November 19, 2003.
Edwards’ Floor Speech on Religious Freedom
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.