President George W. Bush's proposed plan to provide federal funds to religious groups involved in charitable work is "troublesome" to the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs, the group's executive director said at Samford University on Thursday, Feb. 8.
Brent Walker said that the plan, a centerpiece of President Bush's new administration, would allow houses of worship and other pervasively religious bodies to receive taxpayer dollars.
"This breaches the wall of separation of church and state," said Walker, whose lecture was sponsored by the Samford Pre-Law Society as part of the school's convocation series.
"What government funds, government ends up controlling sooner or later," said Walker predicting that such a plan would encourage unhealthful competition between religious groups as they vie for dollars. Government would have to "pick and choose," in dispersing money, he said.
The BJCPA, dedicated to advocating the Baptist principle of religious liberty, brings together 14 different Baptist bodies, including such entities as the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, American Baptist Churches and Progressive National Baptist Convention. According to Walker, BJCPA is the only religious group in Washington that focuses solely on church-state issues.
"We believe that religion must be freely exercised, neither advanced or inhibited," said Walker. "If government tries to advance or inhibit religion, everyone's religious liberty is threatened. Church-state separation is indispensable."
Walker predicted that it will be hard for school voucher legislation, which his group opposes, to pass during the next session of Congress. Having a Congress so evenly divided politically will contribute to that, he said.
Walker, who is both an attorney and an ordained minister, worked at a Tampa, Fla., law firm before earning a Master of Divinity degree from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is an adjunct professor at Georgetown University Law Center.
At Samford, he commented on several issues which the BJCPA has dealt with recently.
He noted that the group filed a "friend of the court" brief recently in U.S. Supreme Court concerning a Texas case which involved allowing a student to pray before a football game. This case, in which the Court ruled that the school's prayer policy was unconstitutional, "crossed the line," of church-state separation, Walker said.
Especially problematic, he said, was the fact that under the policy a student was elected to present the prayer. "We oppose state-sponsored religion," he said, although the group supports a variety of voluntary student-led efforts.
A case to be heard in the upcoming Court session involves an after-school Good News Club in New York state. In this instance, the BJCPA filed on the side of the club, which is led by student volunteers.