WASHINGTON – The constraint is on the government, not citizens when it comes to church-state issues according to the Constitution, stated Dr. Richard Land, who was honored with a national religious liberty award earlier this week at the Canadian embassy.
"I'm always fond of pointing out to people that when you look at our First Amendment to the Constitution, which is in large part there because Baptists insisted that it be there in order for them to vote to ratify the Constitution, all of the restrictions are on the government, not on citizens," said Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, at the 10th annual Religious Liberty Dinner on Thursday.
He continued, "It says Congress shall make no laws establishing a religion nor interfere with the free exercise thereof. It doesn't say that we as people of faith cannot bring our faith conviction into the public square."
The annual Religious Liberty banquet is sponsored by the more than 100-year-old Liberty Magazine, which is dedicated to covering religious freedom issues, the International Religious Liberty Association, the North American Religious Liberty Association, and the Seventh-day Adventist Church. The event counts ambassadors, high-level diplomats, and U.S. politicians among its guests.
Past honorees and speakers of the Religious Liberty Dinner include Hillary Clinton, Suzan Johnson Cook, John McCain, John Kerry, Trent Franks, and Barry Black.
This year, Land was honored with the event's national award, while Gerald Chipeur, a well-known civil rights lawyer who frequently appears in the Supreme Court of Canada, received the international award for religious liberty.
Land, who is also the executive editor of The Christian Post, told CP after the dinner that he is honored to receive the award that has been given to such prestigious leaders in the past.
During his brief speech after accepting the award, Land said that religious freedom is not only an American value, but a universal and human value.
"Every human being deserves the right to work out his or her relationship with their creator without coercive interference from any government or ecclesiastical [body]," the 2012 National Religious Liberty awardee stated.
Canada's Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird agreed with Land that religious freedom is a universal value. Baird, who was the keynote speaker, said history has proven that religious freedom and democratic freedom are inseparable.
"Societies that protect religious freedom are more likely to protect other freedoms," said Baird, who was elected to be Canada's foreign minister last year. "They are typically more stable and they are typically more economically prosperous. When we have religious freedom, other freedoms follow."
He also reflected on Canada's past of trying to be an "honest broker" and not taking a strong stand on hot-button issues, saying, "I call it being afraid to take a clear position even when that's what's needed. So I am proud to say Canada is no longer a country that goes along to get along in the conduct of our foreign affairs.
"We will stand for what is principled, regardless of whether it is popular, convenient or expedient," he declared. "We do so as part of our commitment to human rights for all."
Part of Baird's campaign promise last year was to establish the Office of Religious Freedom. He briefly spoke about it during the speech, saying that the office will help diplomats around the world support religious freedom. But details about the progress of setting up the office, according to Canadian media, are scant.