Signing of the American Baptist Bill of Rights
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Time Period
1939
Description
In the 1930s, leaders in the three largest Baptist denominations -- the Northern Baptist Convention, the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc, and the Southern Baptist Convention -- became increasingly worried about the Franklin Delano Roosevelt administration's favorable policies towards Catholics, specifically with regard to the idea of granting diplomatic recognition to the Vatican. In response, the three denominations joined together to release the American Baptist Bill of Rights in 1939. The document proclaimed that because religious liberty was "not only an inalienable human right, but indispensable to human welfare" that Baptists should "condemn every form of compulsion in religion or restraint of the free consideration of the claims of religion." In the short term, the Bill put pressure on the administration to drop its proposal to recognize the Vatican. It also led to the formation of the organization that would later be called the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty.
Interactive Timeline(s)
Baptist Religious Events and People in American History
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Baptist Religious Events and People in American History
Narrative
Baptists in America began as upstarts, challenging the religious establishment of Congregationalism and Anglicanism in the thirteen colonies through the efforts of pastors like John Leland and Isaac Backus. Ever since Baptists have proclaimed themselves to be supporters of the separation of church and state.

In the 1930s, leaders in the three largest Baptist denominations -- the Northern Baptist Convention, the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc, and the Southern Baptist Convention -- became increasingly worried about the Franklin Delano Roosevelt administration's favorable policies towards Catholics. As a key constituency of the New Deal coalition, Catholics were receiving state subsidies for their schools and hospitals. Even worse, in Baptist minds, was the way in which the administration toyed with the idea of granting diplomatic recognition to the Vatican. Given the rise to power of Mussolini's fascists in Italy, they feared a Catholic plot to overthrow the government and install a totalitarian regime.

In response, the three denominations joined together to release the American Baptist Bill of Rights in 1939. The document proclaimed that because religious liberty was "not only an inalienable human right, but indispensable to human welfare" that Baptists should "condemn every form of compulsion in religion or restraint of the free consideration of the claims of religion." In the short term, the Bill put pressure on the administration to drop its proposal to recognize the Vatican. It also led to the formation of the organization that would later be called the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty.

The Joint Committee was headquartered in Washington, D.C. and lobbied the federal government to drop aid to parochial schools throughout the mid-20th century. During the 1970s and 1980s, under the presidency of James Dunn, the Committee dropped its focus on Catholicism. As theological and political conservatives took over the Southern Baptist Convention in the 1980s, they became dissatisfied with Dunn's positions, especially his support for abortion rights. Finally, in 1991, the Southern Baptist Convention stopped funding the Joint Committee. Since then, the Joint Committee has continued its work representing the interests of 15 Baptist denominations in D.C. It has been a frequent critic of Christian nationalists like David Barton and a defender of the rights of Muslim Americans following 9/11.
Religious Groups
Baptist Family: Other ARDA Links

Photographs

Baptist Joint Committee's Center for Religious Liberty- photo copyright Rick Reinhard
Book/Journal Source(s)
Leonard, Bill, 2005. Baptists in America. New York: Columbia University Press.
Web Source(s)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baptist_Joint_Committee_for_Religious_Liberty
Web Page Contributor
Paul Matzko
Affliated with: Pennsylvania State University, Ph.D. in History

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