Southern Baptist Chaplains and Religious Liberty

By Doug Carver

Religious liberty cases fill the news on an almost daily basis.

“Chaplain Faces Disciplinary Action for Adhering to SBC’s Theology on Biblical Sexuality”

“Chaplain Expects Career-ending Reprimand for Expressing Her Religious Beliefs”

“35 Navy SEALS Seek Religious Accommodation From COVID-19 Vaccine Mandate”

“Health Care Worker Forced to Choose Between Her Religious Beliefs or Her Job”

“Fire Chief Fired for Attending a Leadership Conference at a Church”

“Supreme Court Hears Argument of What Rule Clergy Can Play During a Death Row Execution”

As seen in the above headlines, many of these cases involve those in the chaplaincy ministry. A 2017 report released by a prominent religious liberty advocacy organization, First Liberty Institute, claims a 133% increase in domestic attacks on religious liberty has occurred in the past five years. Arguably, there appears to be a growing hostility in America.

Since 1993 Religious Freedom Day has been commemorated on January 16 via proclamation by the president of the United States. This annual observance commemorates the 1786 Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, a precursor to the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, affirming the freedom of religious conscience and the separation of the church and state principle. As an important reminder, the First Amendment states in part, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof….”

In his 2023 proclamation of Religious Freedom Day, President Joe Biden encouraged all Americans to affirm the importance of religious liberty by “ensuring that people of all religions – or no religion – are treated with equal dignity and respect.”

The 2023 SBC Annual Chaplaincy Training theme is “The Chaplaincy and Religious Liberty.” This topic is significant and timely as religious freedom issues face new challenges in institutional settings, public policy debates and court cases.

Our keynote speakers for the year—including the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) president Brent Leatherwood—will help chaplains understand why religious liberty matters in their ministry. Topics will also cover how religious freedoms are threatened and how chaplains can serve as champions in their respective institutional settings.

Please plan to attend one of our annual training sites, as we hope they will equip you fully as an advocate for religious liberty in churches and communities. Let us all recommit to helping those we serve in their constitutional and God-given right to practice, preach and pray their faith openly and freely.

“Peter and John answered them, ‘Whether it’s right in the sight of God for us to listen to you rather than to God, you decide; for we are unable to stop speaking about what we have seen and heard’” (Acts 4:19-20, CSB).

Published April 25, 2023

Doug Carver

Doug Carver, NAMB Executive Director of the Chaplaincy, serves as the senior advisor to NAMB and the Southern Baptist Convention on the chaplaincy ministry. He leads the NAMB Chaplaincy’s Team daily support to over 3,300 endorsed Southern Baptist chaplains.