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Free Speech Needs Consideration in Religion

Column by Betsy Luznar Draper

Baptist Chaplain

Religious tolerance at MIT doesn't mean agreeing on everything. Last summer our Baptist group sponsored an outdoor concert performed by a youth choir from Tennessee. They came and sang their choreographed religious tunes in front of the Student Center. We enjoyed a beautiful July afternoon as we sat in the grass listening and talking with friends. I also remember a student seeking me out to query, "Who are you? How did you get permission to sing out here?" It became clear that the event had offended someone simply because it was religious.

So should religious events be allowed in public? Every student at MIT should respond with a deafening "yes." Whether you are "religious" or not, the issue is wrapped up in our right to freedom of speech. Religious tolerance played a major role in the creation of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

One of my favorite sites in Boston is the statue of Mary Dyer sitting humbly on the corner of Beacon and Bowdoin streets in front of the State House. She was a Quaker martyr hanged on the Boston Common in 1660. At the time, Massachusetts did not tolerate religions other than that practiced by the Puritans. Dyer was converted by the Quakers on a trip to England. She returned to preach the faith she had found. She was banned from the Boston Common but continued her public proclamations in an act of civil disobedience. She wrote to the court, "My life availeth me not in comparison to the liberty of truth."

Roger Williams became convinced of baptism by immersion after studying the scripture. He was ostracized in Boston and founded Providence, Rhode Island, Brown University, and the first Baptist church in America. He defended the right of the Quakers to practice their convictions although he disagreed with and debated them publicly. Thus began the quest for "soul freedom" by the Baptists.

John Leland, a Baptist preacher, worked with James Madison and Thomas Jefferson in the formation of the First Amendment. The "wall of separation between church and state" made America more than a land of economic freedom; it was a land of religious freedom. We are provided a means to maintain honest dialogue on personal conviction without giving up the elements that gave us individual distinctions. For example, the Christianity that bases itself on the authority of the New Testament can never accept the position concerning a Jesus who is one of many prophets, as the Hindu and many others believe. I believe, according to Scripture, that Jesus is the only born Son of God, both human and divine, and was resurrected. Having said that, I will defend the right of my Hindu friends and colleague ["Religion Helps Some Survive Nuclear Age," Jan. 31] to voice their convictions.

A worthy goal in the freedom of speech is the quest for truth -- a quest characterized by honesty, integrity, and kindness. And I suppose that the Baptist students will continue to voice their convictions.