Professor weighs in on religious freedom

By Alyssa Maxwell

An op-ed essay by Baylor history professor Dr. Thomas Kidd was recently published in USA Today. It focuses on various examples of religion being assaulted around the world.

“In the past six months, appalling religious violence has convulsed Egypt, especially against its Coptic Christians,” he wrote. Such violence in Egypt has led to injuries and deaths.

Although there have not been any such acts of religious violence here in the U.S., there have been controversies regarding religious freedom.

“A federal appeals court approved San Diego State University’s policy of denying a Christian sorority and fraternity official campus benefits simply because the groups restricted membership to Christians,” he wrote.

According to the op-ed essay, the Supreme Court will be hearing arguments on a religious liberty case, Hosanna-Tabor Church v. EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission), which considers whether a religious school has the right to fire a teacher who contradicts official church teachings.

Controversy in religion piqued Kidd’s interest because he feels that it is important to educate others on faith.

“There is no more controversial topic than religion in American public life,” Kidd said, “and I believe that Christian scholars have a vital role to play in offering informed, constructive views on faith’s history and contemporary significance.”

Dr. Kidd teaches American History courses especially on the American Revolution, religious history and the history of American ideas, and is co-director along with Philip Jenkins of Penn State University, of the historical studies of religion program at Baylor’s Institute for Studies of Religion.

“We seek to give excellent scholarship on religion a public platform through magazines and newspapers such as USA Today,” Kidd said.

Kidd and Jenkins have been working together for the last couple of years.

“We think it meets a serious need, as religion plays such a critical part in so many aspects of life, including politics,” Jenkins said.“We did a major event this year on the King James Bible – celebrating its 400th birthday in 2011 – and we have many other events planned through the coming four years or so.”

Kidd has four books published, and a fifth is scheduled to be published this fall–Patrick Henry: First Among Patriots. Last year, Kidd published the book “God of Liberty: A Religious History of the American Revolution,” which examined the role of faith in the American Founding era. The book won an Award of Merit from Christianity Today magazine.

Barry Hankins, director of graduate studies in the history department, served as a mentor to Kidd.

“Professor Kidd and I have very similar scholarly interests but in two different periods of American history, and we both take seriously how Christian commitments intersect with scholarly work,” Hankins said.

They immediately became friends and would frequently go to lunch, either at Vitek’s barbeque or Memorial cafeteria, and talk about their interest in the history of religion in America, current newsworthy topics and football, Hankins said.

“Given his enormous scholarly success, all before the age of 40, I tell people half-jokingly that I’m hitching my wagon to Tommy Kidd’s,” said Hankins.

Hankins and Kidd are collaborating on a narrative history of Baptists in America.