Last week, I traveled to Washington D.C. to attend the annual board meeting for the Baptist Joint Committee.  This meeting is always very special because of the inspiration generated when hearing about the great work the BJC has accomplished.  Brent Walker (Executive Director), Hollyn Hollman (General Counsel), and the rest of the BJC staff provide an incredible witness and defense for religious liberty in our nation’s capitol.   We should all be proud of their work!

In addition to the board meeting, the BJC celebrated a great achievement, the newly renovated Center for Religious Liberty was unveiled.  The center is absolutely gorgeous, with the latest technology and architectural designs that provide for an amazing experience.  Generation after generation will benefit from the center’s commitment to providing both education and advocacy.  In the Baugh-Walker Conference Room, there is an incredible view of the Supreme Court with the U.S. Capitol rising out behind it.  It is a wonderful reminder about the prophetic voice Baptists have provided throughout our country’s existence.

On Monday night we toured the center and Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer offered a word of encouragement to our group.  During the entire exciting evening, I could not help but reflect why religious liberty and church/state separation is so important to me personally.  As many of you know, I am a Native American from the Muskogee (Creek) tribe.  My bother and I are one-fourth Creek with many of our ancestors being full blood Creeks.  One of them was my great-grandmother, Eloise Boudinot.

Eloise grew-up in Eastern Oklahoma and was sent to a government run boarding school when she was very young.  Along with my great-aunt Ruby, they suffered at the hands of people who were there to supposedly help.  Christian missionaries were allowed to teach in this government run school and conduct actions that were very un-Christian.  As little girls, Eloise and Ruby were whipped when they spoke their native Muskogee language.  Good Christian girls spoke only English they were told.  Their hair was cut to reflect a more appropriate Christian style, an attempt to defile the sacredness of Native American’s long hair.  Just imagine it.  Two little innocent girls, scared and alone, being whipped for simply being different.  And all of this took place in the name of a Christian witness and under the watchful eye of a government funded school.

Want to know why I stand for religious liberty?  Want to know why I strongly defend the wall that separates church and state?  At the top of my list is this story of little Eloise and Ruby, my great-grandmother and great-aunt.  Never should a child be made to feel ostracized and demeaned because of their culture or religious differences.  Never should the state permit a religious organization to promote their beliefs to captive children while under the state’s care.  Religious liberty should be for all people and the best way to preserve this freedom is by keeping church and state separate.

Congratulations to the Baptist Joint Committee for the new center.  It is absolutely beautiful!  Yet, more than anything, I want to thank you for keeping religious liberty and church/state separation at the forefront of our minds.  Even further, thank you for defending religious liberty and keeping the wall of separation strong.  On behalf of my family and ancestors, I thank you!

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