Religious Liberty, Chet Edwards, and the Holiday Spirit

The semester is over and winter break is upon us. Many Baylorites (including our staff) are taking the opportunity to reconnect with loved ones, some even traveling hundreds of miles to spend the winter holidays with their family and friends. There are so many reasons to celebrate this month: the end of final exams, football playoffs, the approaching New Year, Yule, Ramadan, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Saturnalia, Pancha Ganapati, Modraniht, Human Rights Day, Newtonmas … the list goes on and on.

Because so many of the upcoming holidays spring from religion, this season provides to examine the controversial relationship between politics and faith. Congressman Chet Edwards, a practicing Christian, believed religion and government should be kept separate. As he once said, “the best way to ruin religion is to politicize it.” During his time in office, Edwards was an outspoken voice for religious liberty; no religion, he argued, should be imposed on Americans through legislation. This view was not always popular or understood, especially by faith-centric groups and politicians, and Edwards often found himself butting heads with those he admired. The debate spanned his career and included arguments about federal funding for social programs operated by religious groups, prayer in public schools, religious expression on public property, and ensuring freedom for religious practices from government interference. Edwards’s opposition sprang from his own conviction that government’s duty was not to promote religion, but to protect it. For this reason, he believed public spaces to be inappropriate venues for such displays. In his notes, he wrote:

What we are talking about here is respecting the right of individuals to practice their First Amendment rights under the Constitution … I do not believe that it is the place of elected officials to determine which religions are acceptable and which are not acceptable … This is the road of intolerance that I think we should not start down. The founding fathers did not intend for Congress to be sanction denominations and faiths … We might not understand [another religion’s] ideas or beliefs, but the First Amendment doesn’t’ just protect the people we like and understand. It protects everyone.

In this spirit, we here at the Baylor Collections of Political Materials wishes you — whatever your own “reason for the season,” — a joyous holiday and much merriment.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back To Top