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Resolution On Religious Freedom In The Americas

At the very moment when all Americans should be united for victory, we view with deepest regret and growing alarm the persistent campaign of the official circles of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States, to rid Latin America of Protestant missionaries. It is contended that their presence is inimical to the best interests of the Good Neighbor Policy of our government. An official statement by their Archbishops and Bishops declares Protestant missionary efforts “prove to be a disturbing factor in our international relations,” and are therefore “offensive to the dignity of our Southern brothers.” The April issue of a leading Catholic periodical characterizes the Protestant missionary enterprise as “unnecessary, unwelcome, and unwise.” It suggests that this work “be curtailed.” Such curtailment naturally involves governmental action.

This is a serious charge which the Southern Baptist Convention, representing five and one-half million American citizens, has borne patiently but now insists cannot go unanswered. We do not question the right of anyone to attack the merits of our missionary enterprise on religious grounds. That is the privilege of free men in a free America. Nor is it our purpose to defend the work of some two hundred Southern Baptist missionaries who have labored side by side with patriotic Latin Americans in seven neighbor republics for over two generations. Our record of transformed lives, schools, colleges, seminaries, training schools, goodwill centers, medical clinics, and independent Latin American Baptist Conventions speaks for itself. Scores of Latin American business men, professional men, and government officials have repeatedly voiced their appreciation of this unselfish work.

The only vital issue here involved is the fundamental ideal of complete religious freedom, first exemplified in human history by the establishment of Rhode Island through the heroic efforts of the persecuted Baptist, Roger Williams. This ideal was later incorporated in the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States, separating church and state. For this freedom we are asking our Catholic, Jewish, Protestant, and non-religious men to fight and die today. This is a right guaranteed by Latin American republics with full freedom to worship and propagate one’s religious convictions. Many of these nations have separation of church and state, notably Brazil, the largest of them all. In spite of this attack on Protestant work, we herewith reassert our historic position to defend the full religious rights of our Catholic neighbors in the United States where they nominally constitute about fifteen percent of the total population, and to defend the religious rights of all minorities everywhere. On the other hand, we likewise insist that those same God-given rights be granted where we constitute a minority, as in Latin America.

Since Latin American republics are outside active war zones, there has been no difficulty in securing the renewal or revalidation of passports for our experienced missionaries. In this regard, our State Department, hard pressed with countless war problems, has shown every consideration. However, in regard to the granting of passports to regularly appointed new missionaries, there has often been serious difficulty and delay during the war years. This is verified by the Committee on Cooperation in Latin America, with headquarters in New York, representing a large number of Protestant mission boards. Ordinarily, this might have been attributed to the war emergency, the lack of transportation, or the refusal of Latin American governments to grant the necessary entrance permits or visas. Actually, transportation has been available; most Latin American governments have been ready and willing to grant the vises; and a Roman Catholic foreign mission official states: “We have had no difficulty in securing passports for our missioners.” Happily, this situation is changing, and passports to new Protestant missionaries are being issued more readily.

We seek no governmental favors or special recognition, but we do maintain that in granting passports outside of war zones, it is not the prerogative of our State Department to pass on the individual merits of the professions of American citizens going abroad, as long as those professions are neither subversive nor immoral. We would maintain the right of American missionaries to be considered as American citizens on legitimate business, regardless of any religious affiliation. We claim the same right for American Catholic missioners, or the missionaries of all faiths. Because of tremendous war problems many may consider this a minor issue, but in the light of the Second Freedom–Freedom of Religion–we consider it of major importance. If we lose in this spiritual battle, the future of full religious freedom in the western hemisphere and the world may be imperiled. We call on all American citizens and their elected representatives to be constantly on the alert against any tendency toward religious favoritism by our government.

It is recommended that copies of this resolution be forwarded to the State Department, Washington, D. C., to all senators and representatives within the territory of the Southern Baptist Convention, and to all Baptist state papers.