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Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty

Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty
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NicknameBJC
MottoFaith. Freedom. For All.
Formation1936
Legal status501(c)(3) nonprofit organization
Headquarters200 Maryland Avenue, N.E., Washington, DC 20002
Region
United States
ServicesAdvocacy, Education, Court Briefs
Chair, Board of Directors
Jackie Moore (as of October 2019)
Executive Director
Amanda Tyler
Websitebjconline.org

Founded in 1936, BJC (full name: the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty) is a national faith-based organization whose singular focus is the protection of religious liberty. With a staff of attorneys, scholars, ministers and mobilizers, the Washington D.C.-based nonprofit has a long history of advocating in the U.S. Supreme Court and working with Congress on issues relating to religious freedom and church-state separation.

BJC analyzes new legal cases and legislation within the larger framework of how best to protect the First Amendment right to religious freedom for all. In some of its recent Supreme Court cases, BJC has filed amicus curiae (friend-of-the-court) briefs defending a potential employee's right to wear her hijab to work, opposing the travel ban, and opposing certain government-sponsored displays of religion, such as the giant free-standing cross in a government-owned intersection in Bladensburg, Maryland. On the legislation front, BJC has been a leading voice in keeping the Johnson Amendment, which protects houses of worship from the pressures and additional dangers that come with endorsing political candidates.

In emphasising that religious freedom applies to all people, BJC has been an outspoken opponent of Christian nationalism and a supporter of religious minorities. The organization often partners with a diversity of religious groups—Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Seventh-day Adventist, among them—and secular organizations in its advocacy work.[1]

Legislation

BJC works closely with Congress on church-state matters. The organization's staff analyzes new legislation, testifies at hearings, and builds advocacy coalitions to sustain religious liberty. Recent examples include:

The Johnson Amendment

BJC supports the “Johnson Amendment” — the provision in the tax code that prohibits houses of worship and 501(c)(3) nonprofits from partisan campaigning. In response to President Trump's vow to “totally destroy” the Johnson Amendment and the administration's repeated attempts to repeal the law, BJC helped bring together thousands of faith leaders and more than 100 denominations to sign letters to Congress asking to keep it.[2]

Opposing School Vouchers

BJC has worked with religious, public education, and civil liberties groups to oppose publicly-funded school voucher programs, arguing that religious teachings should be paid for by voluntary contributions, not through compulsory taxation.[3]

Religious Minorities

As part of its mandate to defend religious liberty for all, BJC supports the Freedom of Religion Act, introduced in January 2019 in Congress, partly in response to President Trump's travel ban. The legislation prohibits using immigrants’ religion (or lack thereof) as a reason to keep them out of the U.S.[4]

Government Funding of Faith-Based Organizations

BJC believes it's important to protect the constitutional principle of barring the government from advancing religion, and that includes funding it. Federal money, BJC argues, should not go to rebuilding churches after a disaster, for example, or to a program that only serves Protestants: Government-funded services must be available to all, regardless of religion. One long-standing staple of Establishment Clause law has been that the government does not fund religion. That responsibility is left to individual religious communities. Using taxpayer dollars to repair and rebuild houses of worship remains constitutionally problematic under the Establishment Clause as taxpayers should not be forced to literally build sanctuaries for religious teachings with which they disagree.[5]

Litigation

A significant part of the BJC's work has been its participation in religious liberty cases that are considered by various courts, particularly in the U.S. Supreme Court. BJC engages in litigation by filing "amicus curiae" briefs, a term that means "friend of the court." Those briefs are filed to assist the court by providing support for specific points at issue in the dispute. Throughout BJC's history, the organization has filed more than 140 legal briefs in court cases.

A Giant Free-Standing Cross on Government Property

In The American Legion v. American Humanist Association, the question for the U.S. Supreme Court concerned a free-standing 40-foot cross on government land in the middle of a major intersection in Bladensburg, Maryland. BJC filed a brief arguing that the monument is unconstitutional because it represents a government endorsement of religion. In response to claims that the monument has an objective and secular meaning, BJC counters: There is no more recognizable symbol of Christianity than the cross, and any attempt to deny that is offensive to Christians. On June 20, 2019, the Supreme Court ruled that the cross could remain, basing its decision on the particular history of that memorial monument.[6]

A Muslim Ban

In Trump v. Hawaii, the Supreme Court addressed the White House's third attempt to limit immigration from certain Muslim-majority countries. BJC argued that the government cannot enact laws designed to harm a specific religious group. But, in June 2018, the Court upheld the validity of the travel ban as within the president's immigration powers. BJC continues its opposition.[7]

Wedding Cake for a Same-Sex Couple's Reception

Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission centered around a bakery owner's refusal to make a cake for the wedding reception of a same-sex couple based on his religious beliefs, despite a state law requiring that businesses open to the public not refuse service due to LGBT status. BJC filed a brief on behalf of the state of Colorado, explaining that laws like this one — which covers discrimination against “disability, race, [religion], color, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, or ancestry”— protect religious liberty. Granting a broad exemption for this baker would open the door for other business owners to refuse service to customers in other protected categories on the basis of the business owner's religious beliefs. For example, another commercial baker could use these same arguments to refuse to create a cake for an interfaith couple, an interracial couple or a couple where one had been previously divorced.[8]

Religious Headscarf in the Workplace

In 2015, BJC and 14 other religious groups joined to defend the right of a Muslim woman to wear her hijab at work in Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Abercrombie & Fitch Stores, Inc. The Supreme Court agreed.[9]

Advocacy and Education

BJC led a coalition of Christians organizations to create a way for Christians to take a stand against Christian Nationalism and call out the threat it poses both to their faith and to democracy. On July 29, 2019, they launched ChristiansAgainstChristianNationalism.org, a grassroots movement standing against the political ideology of Christian nationalism.

To promote its positions, BJC publishes a wide array of materials relating to church-state separation, including significant coalition statements.

One of the most effective educating tools in recent years was "Religion in the Public Schools: A Joint Statement of Current Law." BJC was a member of the document's drafting committee along with a number of leading organizations spanning the political spectrum—from the National Association of Evangelicals and the Christian Legal Society to the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Council of Churches. The document served as a resource for parents, students, teachers, and administrators throughout the United States and was later condensed and mailed to schools across the country by President Bill Clinton because of its accuracy and reliability.

Membership

As a nonprofit 501(c)(3) education and advocacy organization, BJC is supported by the following organizations:

BJC also receives support from individuals who identify with the cause of religious liberty and church-state separation from many different religious backgrounds.

Staff

Amanda Tyler, Executive Director

K. Hollyn (Holly) Hollman, General Counsel and Associate Executive Director

History

BJC traces its roots to 1936, when it was founded as the Southern Baptist Committee on Public Relations.[10] After joining forces with American and National Baptists, the committee established offices in Washington, D.C., in 1946 and became the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs. The decision by three Baptist organizations to work together created a new model.

Joseph Martin (J.M.) Dawson was elected the organization's first full-time Executive Director, a position he held until his retirement at age 75 on October 13, 1953. Other executive directors of BJC have been C. Emanuel Carlson (1954-1971), James E. Wood Jr. (1972-1980), James M. Dunn (1981-1999), and J. Brent Walker (1999-2016). Current executive director Amanda Tyler began her tenure at the start of 2017.

Dawson's leadership led to a number of significant changes within the organization. One of the first was the introduction of the Report from the Capital, a periodical containing news and opinions of interest to politically minded Baptists. The first issue appeared in October, 1946, and BJC still publishes the Report ever as a source of views and analysis on church-state issues.

In 1979, a shift occurred when the Southern Baptist Convention elected Adrian Rogers as their new president. BJC's relationship with the Convention got rockier throughout the 1980s. Prior to these years, resolutions had passed the annual meetings regularly expressing near-unanimous support to the BJC and its stands.[11] But as the eighties brought charges of liberalism among the BJC staff on a variety of issues, then-Executive Director James Dunn responded:

It's ... disingenuous to lament the "left leaning" of the Baptist Joint Committee regarding issues on which we do not take a stand or lean at all ... The Baptist Joint Committee is chugging straight ahead on the course set in the 1980s by the members and staff of the BJCPA.[12]

Throughout the controversy, significant leadership among the conservative faction were attacking Dunn repeatedly. An example comes from Paige Patterson: "[Dunn] hobnobs with the liberal establishment in the house and Senate ... That doesn't make us very happy either."[13]

In 1990, the SBC reduced the BJC budget to $50,000, an 87% decrease over its previous levels of funding.[14] A year later, at the 1991 annual meeting, all funding to the BJC was abolished in an amendment from Fred Minix of Virginia.[15]

After the SBC withdrew its financial support, the Baptist Joint Committee received donations directly from several Southern Baptist state conventions, local churches, and individuals. The agency's other supporting bodies also helped make up the financial difference.[16]

Name Changes

In 2005, the BJC name was changed to the "Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty" to more accurately reflect their singular focus on religious liberty issues. In 2019, the organization rebranded as “BJC” with the tagline Faith. Freedom. For All., to capture the inclusiveness of its mission and the relevancy of its work.

75th Anniversary

The Baptist Joint Committee celebrated its 75th anniversary in 2011 and released a special edition of Report from the Capital highlighting the history of the organization.[17]

References

  1. ^ "UNITING AGAINST RELIGIOUS INTOLERANCE IN A CLIMATE OF FEAR". States News Service. December 21, 2015.
  2. ^ Jagoda, Naomi (April 5, 2017). "Religious groups maintain limits on political activity". The Hill.
  3. ^ Greenhouse, Linda (June 24, 1997). "COURT EASES CURB ON PROVIDING AID IN CHURCH SCHOOLS". New York Times.
  4. ^ Boorstein, Michelle (June 26, 2018). "Why many religious liberty groups are silent about the Supreme Court's decision on Trump's travel ban". Washington Post.
  5. ^ Banks, Adelle (October 18, 2005). "FEMA's plan to reimburse churches draws criticism". The Christian Century.
  6. ^ Mach, Daniel. "The Supreme Court Is Playing Favorites With Religion". ACLU. ACLU.
  7. ^ "Trump said he'll 'totally destroy' the Johnson Amendment. What is it and why should people care?". Washington Post. February 2, 2017.
  8. ^ "Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission".
  9. ^ "EEOC v. Abercrombie".
  10. ^ Stan L. Hastey's A History of the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs, 1946-1971, a doctoral thesis presented to the faculty of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in October 1973, has been used as a central source for all information until 1971.
  11. ^ Schleicher, Dorothy C. A History and Analysis of the Role of the Baptist Joint Committee, 1972-Present. Library Printing Service: Waco TX, 1993, p. 170.
  12. ^ Dunn, James M. "Reflections," Report from the Capital Vol. 44 (January 1989): p. 15
  13. ^ Beth Spring. "James Dunn Is the Focus of a Southern Baptist Controversy," Christianity Today Vol. 28 (March 16, 1984): p. 44.
  14. ^ "Executive Committee Cuts BJCPA--CLC Receives Religious Liberty Assignment and $391,796," Southern Baptist Public Affairs (Spring 1990): p. 9.
  15. ^ Schleicher 194
  16. ^ Parry, Pam. "On Guard for Religious Liberty: Six Decades of the Baptist Joint Committee." Macon: Smyth and Helwys Publishing, 1996. Page 57-58.
  17. ^ "Celebrate 75 Years of the BJC!". Retrieved 21 July 2014.

External links


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