Stay Out Of Religion, Baptist Scholar Tells Senate Subcommittee

A Baptist college professor has urged a Senate panel not to make it harder for Americans to bring church-state lawsuits, arguing that such legislation would reduce religious freedom rights.

Melissa Rogers, visiting professor of religion and public policy at Wake Forest University Divinity School, testified Aug. 2 before the Senate Judiciary Com­mittee’s Subcommittee on the Con­sti­tution, Civil Rights and Property Rights against proposed legislation that would deny plaintiffs in successful church-state cases the right to recover attorneys’ fees.

Republican lawmakers have been pushing the measure, insisting it will prevent groups like Americans United and the American Civil Liberties Union from filing cases to enforce the First Amend­ment’s Establishment Clause, which bans laws “respecting an establishment of religion.”

Rogers, testifying against the euph­emis­tically dubbed “Veterans’ Mem­orials, Boy Scouts, Public Seals and other Public Expressions of Religion Protection Act of 2006” (S. 3696), told the subcommittee the bill would weaken religious freedom in America.

Making it harder for people to challenge government promotion of religion would inevitably lead to more efforts by the state to use religion for its own ends, Rogers said.

“I do not want the government to be involved in promoting the cross and the gospel,” she said. “That is my job as a Christian. That is not the government’s job. I am very fearful that the day the government gets its hands on the cross is the day the cross is used as a means to a political end.”

The bill, Rogers asserted, “is an attempt to undermine the Establishment Clause by discouraging enforcement of it. There is something deeply disturbing about the notion that Congress would weaken certain constitutional provisions because it does not support some of the principles embedded in it or the results those provisions have commanded in particular cases. That would be conduct unworthy of a body sworn to protect and defend the Constitution.”

Marc D. Stern, general counsel of the American Jewish Congress, also testified against the bill. Testifying in favor was Mathew D. Staver of the Jerry Falwell-affiliated Liberty Counsel and Shannon Demos Woodruff, an attorney with TV preacher Pat Robertson’s American Center for Law and Justice.