On May 16, 1920, ten to fifteen thousand people gathered on the east steps of the National Capitol in Washington D.C. to hear George W. Truett, the pastor of First Baptist Church, Dallas, Texas. J.B. Gambrell, the President of the Southern Baptist Convention that year, regarded the address, “the most significant and momentous of our day.” Truett proclaimed the Baptist ideal of religious liberty, gave its theological basis, reminded his hearers of the crucial role Baptists played in its American adoption, and emphasized its implications and our responsibilities to uphold the principle. Truett speech rings out today as a relevant cry as we celebrate our American freedoms granted by God’s hand of providence.
Baptists have one consistent record concerning liberty throughout all their long and eventful history. They have never been a party to oppression of conscience. They have forever been the unwavering champions of liberty, both religious and civil. Their contention now, is, and has been, and, please God, must ever be, that it is the natural and fundamental and indefeasible right of every human being to worship God or not, according to the dictates of his conscience, and, as long as he does not infringe upon the rights of others, he is to be held accountable alone to God for all religious beliefs and practices. Our contention is not for mere toleration, but for absolute liberty. There is a wide difference between toleration and liberty. Toleration implies that somebody falsely claims the right to tolerate. Toleration is a concession, while liberty is a right. Toleration is a matter of expediency, while liberty is a matter of principle. Toleration is a gift from God. It is the consistent and insistent contention of our Baptist people, always and everywhere, that religion must be forever voluntary and uncoerced, and that it is not the perogative of any power, whether civil or ecclesiastical, to compel men to conform to any religious creed or form of worship, or to pay taxes for the support of a religious organization to which they do not believe. God wants free worshipers and no other kind.
Let me encourage you to take the time to read the entire speech: Baptists and Religious Liberty by George W. Truett
With our minds on the subject, let me also recommend a sermon by M. E. Dodd, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Shreveport Louisiana. In 1916 he preached a series of eight sermons on “Baptist Principles and Practices.” Following his first sermon on “Baptists and the Bible,” Dodd emphasized “Religious And Political Liberty” as one of Baptist’s most important and distinguishing core doctrinal principles.