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SBC’s Land among experts D.C. policy-makers look to

WASHINGTON (BP)–No matter who is in the Oval Office after this year’s election, the editors of the National Journal believe there is a core of experts who will “help shape the debates” in some burgeoning policy areas facing the nation.

In the magazine’s May 22 edition, staffers identified 113 Americans who will help the policy wonks in Washington plot the country’s course in 10 critical areas: intelligence reform; workforce quality; Social Security; China; same-sex “marriage”; global warming; drug pricing; weapons threat; church and state; and bioengineering. The National Journal, which is widely read on Capitol Hill, is a weekly national magazine that addresses matters of politics, policy and government.

In compiling the list, magazine staffers were told to select individuals whose perspectives “are likely to be used, or are already being used, by legislators and policy makers.” Southern Baptist ethicist Richard Land was included among the experts cited in the area of church and state.

The article describes Land, president of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, as “measured when articulating his views, a characteristic somewhat odds with the fire-and-brimstone preacher stereotype.” It notes Land’s close relationship with President George W. Bush and presidential adviser Karl Rove, a friendship established years before Bush won the White House.

In the introduction to the magazine, the National Journal’s publisher and editor noted that the individuals tapped for the magazine’s focus piece were from a wide range of vocations, but they all had in common the fact that “their know-how makes them important.”

What constitutes an expert and earns an individual a place on the National Journal’s exclusive list? “Experts are the people the politicians will call on when they get serious about addressing an important public policy issue,” the magazine says, while noting the list is diverse but not necessarily exhaustive.

The church and state topic was included in the magazine’s 10 critical issue areas because a “hot debate rages over the meaning of the First Amendment’s establishment clause,” the magazine states, noting “more government dollars are flowing to religious groups than ever before,” benefiting from the “charitable choice” provision in the 1996 welfare reform law and the president’s push for faith-based initiatives.

Land believes in a strict separation of church and state, the magazine says, a stance where government “doesn’t get into the business of religion” but where people are free to express their faith. Citizens have a right to bring their core values into the discussion of public policy issues, Land says in the magazine.

Much national discussion centers on how the First Amendment is to be interpreted, the article continues. The country’s “political and legal community has never settled on [the] meaning or intent of the amendment”; previous court rulings calling for a strict separation of church and state have recently been set aside in favor of a more relaxed view in which the government is allowed to give some measure of support to certain religious enterprises. The article went on to note that conservatives are seeking a level playing field in which the state treats religious and secular groups equally.

The magazine quotes Jim Towey, director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, describing Land as being “guided by his conscience, love of God” and “love of country.” Land is a “thoughtful Southern Baptist champion,” says Robert Franklin, professor of social ethics at Emory University, who added that the Southern Baptist executive is “quite open-minded.”

Among other Southern Baptists included on the list are U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, a member of Corinth Baptist Church in Seneca, S.C., and Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council and a member of Greenwell Springs Baptist Church in Greenwell, La.

Within the church and state issue area, the magazine also features Christopher Anders, legislative counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union; Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations; Stanley Carlson-Thies, a fellow with the Center for Public Justice; Mark Chopko, general counsel for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops; Robert Franklin, professor of social ethics at Emory University; Ira (Chip) Lupu and Robert Tuttle, co-directors of the Project on Law and Religious Institutions and Legal Tracking Project of the Roundtable on Religion and Social Welfare; Melissa Rogers, visiting professor of Religion and Public Policy at Wake Forest University; Laurie Rubenstein, minority chief counsel for the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee; Marc Stern, assistance executive director of the American Jewish Congress; and Eric Treene, special counsel for religious Discrimination in the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Justice Department.

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  • Dwayne Hastings