Then and Now: Religious Freedom and Liberty

Historian and author Frank Lambert tackles a question that comes up often: What did the founders really think about religion? In this conversation from our archives with Maureen Fiedler, we interrogate the myths and dive into the historical context that influenced the architects of our first freedoms. Then we meet the leader of an organization that has worked to protect the separation of church and state since 1936 – Amanda Tyler with the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty. She connects Baptist history to modern-day advocacy, explaining why some faith leaders are devoted to preserving religious liberty for themselves and their neighbors.

“No matter how we pray or where we come… we lament”
The lamentation took place outside the Supreme Court on June 24, 2022, when the nation’s highest court overturned Roe v. Wade. While some celebrated from pulpits, a group of women religious leaders organized by Faith in Public Life gathered online to share reflections, grieve and bring attention to the group most impacted: women of color and low-income women living in states with no access to abortion care.

“They said we really don’t want religion and the federal government to mix”
Purdue University History Professor Frank Lambert joins Maureen Fiedler to talk about the popular myths surrounding the nation’s Founding Fathers when it comes to religion. They dive into the historical events that influenced the founders’ rationale behind creating a system of checks and balances on authority, including a growing public distrust of religious leaders and institutions. From the first Great Awakening to sectarian divisions and conflicts in the early colonies, Lambert suggests the perceptions circulating today are rooted in contemporary “culture wars” rather than history.

“We Cannot Rely on the United States Supreme Court to Protect Our Rights”
Baptists are a diverse group and that is in some ways most evident in the advocacy around issues of church and state. While Brent Leatherwood of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission welcomed the Supreme Court’s decisions on church and state matters, the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty leader sounded alarms. Sharing a point of view rarely heard in the public conversation, the group’s executive director Amanda Tyler offers context and history for her advocacy and the organization’s reaction to rulings that open the door for greater entanglement between religious groups and government.

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