ST. LOUIS -- Rudy Pulido's desire to preserve Baptists' historic stand on religious freedom has earned him an award named in his honor.
The St. Louis chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State presented him with its first Rudy A. Pulido Religious Liberty Award as the longtime member steps down as the chapter's president, a post he has held for 30 years.
The St. Louis organization created the award to honor Pulido's "extraordinary service...to the cause of religious liberty for all, guaranteed in America by the separation of church and state," according to a press release.
"Rudy has had the courage to stand up for separation of church and state, which guarantees religious liberty for all at times when many Baptists were abandoning that historic Baptist distinctive," St. Louis attorney and Americans United member Cynthia Holmes noted by e-mail.
"He opposed asking the government to legislate religion or teaching religious beliefs in public schools, recognizing that such teaching should be done by families and churches. He served as a plaintiff in a suit challenging funding religious schools with tax dollars," Holmes added.
"He organized several events for legislators, working with other faith groups and education groups to let them know that large numbers of religious constituents did not agree with proposals for public funding of and favors for religious groups."
Honored by the award, Pulido views participation in Americans United as an extension of his ministry as a longtime Baptist pastor and of how he identifies himself as a Baptist.
He said his greatest joy as president came from leading a coalition to pass the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in Missouri in 2003.
A Supreme Court decision in the early 1990s changed the guideline for determining when a law violated the First Amendment's free-exercise clause, he explained. Each state had to pass a restoration act to uphold the original guideline.
"Without it, churches could have been cited in violation of local or state ordinances for such acts as having candlelight services or serving wine to minors when Communion/the Lord's Supper was observed," Pulido said by e-mail. "Though it was unlikely that local officials would cite religious groups for such things, religious groups deserved better than a 'don't ask, don't tell' posture."
While he found joy in his service -- particularly "in meeting some wonderful people throughout our state who understand the importance of defending our religious freedom" -- he also has fielded disappointments.
"My greatest disappointment is that Baptists no longer seem to be the great champions of religious liberty in America," Pulido acknowledged. "When I began my service as president of the St. Louis chapter and introduced myself as a Baptist, there was a general acknowledgment and appreciation for what Baptists had done in defense of religious freedom.
"As I closed my service..., I found that when I introduced myself as a Baptist, I had to add that I was an 'historic' Baptist who still believed in the separation of church and state."
Members of the St. Louis chapter will present the award in the future to those who "exhibit exceptional dedication and effort to protect religious liberty," according to the press release.