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Texas judge could face sanctions for allowing photo to run in newspaper ad for seminary

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–A Texas judge is under fire by his state’s judicial conduct commission for appearing in newspaper advertisements for Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Tarrant County Judge R. Brent Keis, a master of arts in lay ministries student at the Fort Worth, Texas, seminary, appeared in his judicial robe in an April 2002 advertisement in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. That advertisement, which contained only a photo of Keis, promoted the seminary’s study programs for lay people.

Within weeks, an anonymous complaint was filed with the Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct in Austin. A letter of inquiry to Keis followed, requesting that the judge provide information to the Commission about the advertisement.

Keis provided a statement in July 2002, explaining that while he “did not give a quote and did not specifically endorse the quality, content or value of the school or the program,” he had prayerfully considered having his image associated with the seminary.

“I know my religious faith allowed only one answer to the seminary’s request,” Keis wrote. “I could not refuse or ‘deny’ the use of my photo or the approved text. It is my sincere religious belief that for me to have said no to such a request would be equal to my denying Christ. This, I cannot do.”

Keis cited Matthew 10:32-37 and 2 Timothy 2:11-13 in his explanation. “I did not agree to this to become a martyr … but I did so because it was required by my faith.”

After convening in December 2002, the Commission issued a private warning to Keis for violating Canon 2B of the Texas Code of Judicial Conduct, which states: “a judge shall not lend the prestige of the judicial office to advance the private interests of the judge or others.” Keis was given opportunity to accept the private warning or appear before the Commission for further proceedings.

Keis replied in a letter in January 2003 that the case had “from the beginning, been a matter of serious religious conviction” for him. He noted, however, that “accept” may mean “consent, approval, to receive as true, or ‘to endure without protest.'”

“It is true that the Commission has secular authority over me. And, if you are asking me whether I will endure this sanction without protest, or appeal, I agree (as my faith tells me to do so). If you are asking for more, my religious convictions have not changed,” Keis wrote.

He wrote that he believed he had achieved the objective of not endorsing “a private interest and not violating my religious beliefs” by not providing a quote for the seminary advertisement. He also wrote that the contemplated sanction of the Commission constituted “religious persecution” and violated his right of free speech.

The Commission issued a final, formal copy of a private warning to Keis on Feb. 28, 2003.

Trouble began for Keis again when the seminary advertisement appeared in newspapers in San Antonio and Houston in May 2003, promoting the seminary’s south Texas extension education programs for lay people.

Unaware that the advertisements had run, Keis received another letter from the Commission asking for explanation. He replied that he had no knowledge of the advertisements, but was still summoned to appear before the Commission Oct. 8.

In a July letter to Southwestern Seminary, Keis explained the situation to seminary spokesman Greg Tomlin, who began serving as interim director of public relations July 1.

“The seminary’s advertising campaign at the time the ads were placed was under the direction of the school’s director of public relations prior to my tenure,” Tomlin said. “When I received the letter from Judge Keis, I contacted all persons who were responsible for the placement of the advertisement featuring him and instructed them to make certain the ad did not run again in its current format until this issue is settled in Austin in October.”

Tomlin said that he regretted the trouble the advertisements had caused Keis, but applauded the judge’s willingness to be identified as a Christian.

“In our society today, many people want Christians to compartmentalize their faith. They want a politician to be a politician, not a Christian politician. They want a teacher to be a teacher, not a Christian teacher. In this case, they want a judge to be only a judge, and not a Christian judge. Judge Keis understands that faith in Christ is expressed in every part of his life. Faith in Christ is not checked baggage that he leaves at the office or courtroom door. I applaud his faith and willingness to endure sanction for Christ.”
(BP) photo posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo title: UNDER FIRE.

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