Maddox: `No unnecessary burden on believers'

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Bob Maddox preaches religious ``freedom'' - not merely ``tolerance'' toward those with differing points of view. He explains that ``toleration suggests that one view is the view while all others are borne as part of the burden for governance and power.

``By contrast, the US Constitution ensures religious freedom, thus giving everyone equal standing before the law,'' the Baptist minister writes in his new book, ``Separation of Church and State.''

The Rev. Mr. Maddox is a First Amendment warrior. As executive director of the nonpartisan, nonsectarian national lobby, Americans United for Separation of Church and State (AU), Robert Maddox has been at the forefront of battles against state-sponsored classroom prayer, tax aid to parochial schools, diplomatic ties between the United States and the Roman Catholic Church in the Vatican, and the involvement of governmental agencies in religious life.

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Most of these issues revolve around the so-called ``establishment'' clause of the US Constitution's First Amendment. But Maddox stresses that the guarantee of ``free exercise'' of religion is no less important to individual freedom. He is concerned that the public and courts are less protective of the right to practice one's religion than they are of watchdogging the entanglement of church and state.

``The public itself should exercise extraordinary forbearance toward one another, and the courts should exercise the greatest amount of care before they get into a free-exercise case,'' Maddox said in an interview at AU's national headquarters here.

He points out that the burden of proof should properly be on the state to show why it is in the public interest to curtail religious practices. ``The burden [now] is invariably on the individual to show that his free-exercise rights have been injured,'' Maddox explains. ``The courts have been extremely reluctant to see free exercise problems.''

Maddox says he doesn't believe that there is a judicial conspiracy to interfere with free exercise or ``to strip religion from the country.'' He says, however, that the courts tend to protect free exercise in situations they see as ``significant'' while they uphold governmental claims against individuals in others.

For instance, unemployment benefits were ordered for a Seventh-day Adventist who refused Saturday work because of her religious beliefs. But the US Supreme Court would not honor the right of a Jewish chaplain to wear a yarmulke (religious headgear) while on military duty or honor the belief of an American Indian couple who refused on religious grounds to use a social security number for their child when applying for welfare.

``Free exercise will never be absolute,'' Maddox concedes. ``We must recognize that the state does have a compelling interest in some situations,'' he adds. But that interest ought to be clearly shown and there ought not to be a better alternative, he says. ``There should be no unnecessary burden on the believer, on the practicing person.''

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