WASHINGTON (ABP) – Former Sen. Mark Hatfield -– an Oregon Republican whose Baptist faith helped shape his political views during nearly half a century in public office -– died Aug. 7 after several years of declining health.
A five-term senator who retired in 1997, Hatfield often broke ranks with his party over his opposition to war. In an era when many of his fellow Republicans warmed to the Religious Right’s blending of religion and politics, he remained a staunch advocate of the separation of church and state.
“A life-long Baptist, Mark Hatfield took his faith seriously,” recalled Brent Walker, executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty. “He integrated his Christianity into his public life, but without judging or coercing others to do the same.”
Walker cited Hatfield’s “stellar record on religious liberty issues.” He co-sponsored the landmark Equal Access Act of 1984, upholding the right of religion clubs to meet in public secondary schools. In 1993 he helped pass the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, aimed at protecting religious freedom for all Americans.
Hatfield worked closely with the BJC, a religious-liberty watchdog organization representing 15 Baptist bodies that provide it funding. He once described former BJC head James Dunn, who retired in 1999, as one of his mentors and credited him with teaching him what it means to be a Baptist and the importance of church-state separation in ensuring religious liberty.
“Mark Hatfield was the kind of public leader and the kind of Baptist we could use a lot more of today,” Walker said.
Bob Allen is managing editor of Associated Baptist Press.