Guest Post: Celebrating Congress Week at the Baylor Collections of Political Materials (BCPM)

Poster_Small_330x242_(2016)This week’s blog comes to us from Zach Kastens, a graduate assistant at the Baylor Collections of Political materials. Welcome, Zach!

From April 1st—7th, the Association of Centers for the Study of Congress celebrates Congress Week, commemorating the month in which Congress achieved its first quorums in 1789. This year, the Baylor Collections of Political Materials (a founding member of the ACSC) highlights Congressman Chet Edwards’s defense of the First Amendment to memorialize the 225th anniversary of the Bill of Rights.

Chet Edwards PortraitThomas Chester “Chet” Edwards served as the representative for Texas’s 11th and (after redistricting in 2005) 17th districts from 1991 to 2011. During his 20-year tenure in the United States House of Representatives, Edwards championed legislation on veterans’ issues, education, technology, and senior-citizens. As a moderate Democrat representing a demographically Republican district, Edwards developed a reputation as a pragmatic, independent leader who valued his constituents’ concerns over partisan politics. His political talent and cross-party appeal earned him a spot on then-Senator Barack Obama’s Vice-Presidential shortlist in 2008.

Edwards HandshakeFor Chet, politics, service, and compassion were inextricable from one another. He often spoke of his duty to his district and his appreciation for men and women in uniform. Furthermore, Edwards strongly advocated for the personal freedoms outlined in the Bill of Rights. His willingness to listen to, consider, and learn from opposition was partially informed by his respect for the American Constitution and his own religious faith. As a Christian, Chet’s views on the separation of church and state carried considerable weight among his colleagues, so much so that he was considered by some to be the leading congressional voice on the issue.

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Click the image above to view the speech in the Baylor University Libraries Digital Collections.

In the above video, dated June 12, 2001, Congressman Edwards responds to a quote from President George W. Bush decrying political opposition to Faith-Based Initiatives. This minute-long speech on the House floor held many political implications. As a Democrat representing a Republican district, Edwards toed a fine line when it came to criticizing the sitting Republican President. President Bush’s residence complicated matters; in 1999, before taking office, Bush purchased Prairie Chapel Ranch – a property approximately twenty-five miles from Waco, TX – thus becoming one of Edwards’s constituents.

Here, Edwards reiterates his personal respect for the President and “his right to offer his proposals,” but then gives a scathing critique of the President’s comments: “Challenging people’s religious faith because of public policy differences is not a way to bring Americans together. Rather, it is a prescription for religious divisiveness.” Edwards’s criticism echoes Thomas Jefferson’s remarks in 1802: “… I shall see with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore a man to his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition to his social duties.” Both Jefferson and Edwards advocate for the separation of government and religion, believing that an American’s belief in the latter should never be made to conflict with the former.

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Click on the image above to view the video in the Baylor University Libraries Digital Collections.

In the above video, dated February 5, 2004, Congressman Edwards and Representative John Boehner (R-Ohio) debate the merits of Charitable Choice provisions. These provisions are found several pieces of legislation, such as the Community Solutions Act of 2001, the American Community Renewal Act, the Fathers Count Act, the Charitable Choice Expansion Act, and the Job Improvement Training Act.  Supporters of Charitable Choice provisions hoped to provide federal funds for religious social work programs to help administer addiction recovery and poverty relief without compromising the integrity of the religious organization’s mission.  Opponents, including Edwards, the Baptist Joint Committee, etc., argued that the provisions would allow religious organizations to discriminate in hiring for federally funded positions; they also feared that these provisions would allow the religious organizations, in effect, to use federal funds to proselytize to their clients.

Edwards argued that the language in the bill “subsidize[d] religious bigotry in America” due to the allocation of taxpayers’ money toward discriminatory hiring practices. He framed Charitable Choice provisions as the first step in the erosion of religious liberty, citing the protections guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution. For Edwards, religious liberty was not a bipartisan issue but a nonpartisan one, too sacred to be sullied by politics. He characterized the denigration of religious freedom as “wrong,” finding such practices “morally offensive as a person of faith” and “deeply offensive to the First Amendment.” Perhaps the most severe condemnation of Charitable Choice legislation comes when he refers to the Founding Fathers’ famous battles over federal and states’ rights as Representative Boehner attempts to adjourn the discussion to a later date: “If this was an issue important enough for Madison and Jefferson to debate for 10 years in the Virginia legislature, … then certainly it’s worthy of our discussion here on the floor.”

Since its 1791 addition, proponents of faith-based governance have attacked the First Amendment’s role as the primary defense of American citizens. However, those who believe in the sanctity of religious liberty have been defended by legislators who shared the vision of America’s Founding Fathers – a vision of a country ruled not by fear, oppression, or dogma but by its own citizens. For Chet Edwards, religious liberty struck at the heart of this vision. He believed in an America where every citizen is free to practice (or not practice) any religion they desire without fear or financial, governmental, or social retribution.


Learn more about the political career of Chet Edwards by visiting the Thomas Chester “Chet” Edwards Papers collection, and for more information about the Baylor Collections of Political Materials, please visit their website.

Guest Post: Sierra Wilson, Our 2012 Summer Intern

 

Welcome to our first guest post here on the BU Libraries Digital Collections blog! We’re excited to welcome Sierra Wilson, a graduate student from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign studying Library and Information Science. Sierra has been with us this summer working as an intern. Her assignment: the sprawling Baylor University News Releases project, outlined in a previous blog post. Take it away, Sierra!

My name is Sierra, and I was an intern this summer at Baylor’s Riley Digitization Center.  My last day is on Friday, and I’m sad to be leaving the RDC behind to return to school.  I am not new to Baylor; I grew up in Waco and graduated from Baylor in 2008.  Last year, I started graduate school at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where I study Library and Information Science.   My main interest in grad school has been in archives and special collections, and how these materials can be made more accessible by the use of technology.   My internship this summer was the perfect opportunity to learn more about the equipment and techniques libraries use to achieve this goal.

Although I have been lucky to work on many different projects this summer, most of my time here has been spent working on the Baylor Press Release project that Eric posted about earlier this summer.  After we sorted thousands of press releases into chronological order (no small feat!), the next step was actually digitizing them.   To do this, we load the press releases into binders and scan them with a machine called the Kirtas, which turns the pages of books to speed up the scanning process.  This is the part of the process with which I have been the most involved.  Back in June, I started scanning in 1960 (earlier press releases were scanned on a flatbed scanner); as of this week, my co-workers and I have scanned a decade and half of press releases!

I will admit that there have been times that I never wanted to see another press release again, but I’m sad that I’ll be leaving this project before its completion.  Seeing this task go from a massive, daunting heap of boxes to an organized, streamlined system has been extremely satisfying.  It’s been an important part of my learning experience this summer to see the digitization center’s staffers tackle such a hefty problem.

One of the most interesting parts of the project has been the opportunity to learn more about the history of Baylor and Waco.  I read about the changing landscape of campus, with the addition of buildings like Moody Library and the Hooper-Schaefer Fine Arts Center in the late 1960s and early 1970s, as well as the continual growth of the student body.  Of course, sometimes Baylor history repeats itself: the Noze brotherhood was banned from campus in 1965.

Over the time I’ve spent working on this project, I started keeping a list of the most unusual press releases I came across.  I found myself surprised (and often amused) by the nationally known figures that came to Baylor to speak or perform.  Baylor folk often talk about the “Baylor Bubble,” that invisible barrier that sometimes seems to shield the campus from the outside world, but these press releases prove that Baylor has always played an important, active role in the world around it.  Sometimes Baylor’s visitors were prestigious, and some are just downright unusual, and I would never have imagined before this project that any of them would have come to Baylor.

Sierra’s Top Five Unusual Press Releases

October 20, 1972
Jon Voight comes to Baylor to campaign for George McGovern

 

There’s something strange in the idea that a big movie star like Jon Voight would come to Baylor to campaign for McGovern.  That’s like Brad Pitt coming to campaign for John Kerry in 2004: hard to imagine.  But he did, not that it made much of a difference for McGovern’s campaign for president.

April 30, 1965
Nina Simone performs at Baylor May Day festivities

 

Nina Simone was a well-known singer-songwriter, pianist, and civil rights activist, and I was shocked that Baylor would have brought in someone as famous as Simone to be their featured May Day performer.  May Day seems to have been the predecessor to Diadeloso.

March 23, 1973
Lenore Romney speaks at Chapel

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In March of 1973, Lenore Romney, the wife of George Romney and mother of current presidential candidate Mitt Romney, was a speaker at Chapel.  She herself had recently lost a race for U.S. Senator in the state of Michigan, and spoke about her experience as a woman running for office.  Who knew?

September 28, 1974
Erich von Daniken lectures at Baylor

If you’ve ever come across the History Channel’s “Ancient Aliens” program, then you are familiar with Erich von Daniken’s ideas about alien contact with ancient civilizations.  At the time of this speaking engagement at Baylor, von Daniken had recently published Chariots of the Gods?, which details his unusual (and frequently discredited) theory that the development of human civilization could have aided by extraterrestrial contact.  I wonder what the Baylor community thought about him?

May 28, 1965
President Lyndon Baines Johnson speaks at Baylor commencement

I bet you didn’t know that President Lyndon Baines Johnson had family ties to Baylor, did you?  It turns out his maternal great-grandfather was the president of Baylor from 1861-2.  LBJ wasn’t the first sitting president to speak at Baylor, either; he was preceded by both Eisenhower and Truman.

The Baylor University News Release collection is being scanned and processed at this time. Images above are for illustrative purposes and are not available via the Baylor University Libraries Digital Collections at this time. We’ll post an update to let users know when they can access this impressive collection!