Remarks delivered by Gary P. Burton



Pastor of Pintlala Baptist Church
before the Rules Committee of the House of Representatives
with respect to House Bill, HJR152

March 13, 2002

   Ladies and Gentlemen,

   It is hard to know if a moment is a defining one. Unless the times are dramatic, most days and hours slip into the archives of oblivion. However, that is certainly not true of these moments entrusted to us today. We will be defined by the decisions made here.

   I am a citizen of Alabama and a Baptist pastor by calling. Both privileges are expressions of the grace of God in my life. Twenty-three minutes from here is the church I have served for thirty years. It is a country crossroads church. Each day my conversations are held with farmers, mechanics, computer programmers and technicians, secretaries, school teachers, financial planners, attorneys, dentists, nurses,doctors, administrators.

  I talk and pray with both the wealthy and the impoverished, the educated and the illiterate and I tell you that there is a seething fomentation within the citizens of this state which cries out forchange. These are common people who have an uncommon desire for their childrenand grandchildren to grow up in a new Alabama. We believe that new energy will come to this state when the basic governing document is changed to reflect fairness to those of every race, religion, and economic class. As you well know, many persons have the right to vote today who would never have been allowed to frame the current 1901 constitution. The process was not fair.

   My appeal is simple: Be fair to all the people of this great state. Let them decide if a constitutional convention should be the means by which a new document comes to reality. A new constitution needs to be fair, but so does the process. The issue before us today belongs in the hands of Alabama’s people. That would be fair.

   There are two dimensions of this issue which summon our attention. First, there is the growing cynicism on the part of Alabama’s people toward every branch of government. More and more those who comprise the grassroots of our state feel increasingly detached from their own leaders. The general public despairs at the thought of making a difference in the system of their own governance. Trust the people of Alabama with this decision and you will send a wholesome signal that liberty requires the full and enthusiastic engagement of all our citizens.

   I have another concern.Please, please don’t be intimidated by God-talk. If we aren’t careful, we would get the impression that God is not on the side of healthy progress and refreshing change. Can anyone possibly believe that the spiritually minded citizens of Alabama want a godless kind of progress? Godless progress is an oxymoron. That we want a new constitution which would contradict the deep faithand spiritual values of
our people is ludicrous. That we should fear a new and fair constitution would undermine, even prohibit the expression of faith is absurd. Such fear-mongering in the name of God is really an accommodation to the false god of the status-quo. As a matter of fact, I become frightened for those who invoke the name of God in order to preserve the status-quo which perpetuates an agenda of exclusion and favoritism. It seems to me that such sentiments come close to violating the divine mandate, “Thou shalt not use the name of the Lord thy God in vain!”

   So I beg you to give all the people of our state an opportunity to decide on the merits of a constitutional convention. A few days ago I stood in the foyer of the home of Thomas Jefferson at Monticello and recalled how he was the consummate apostle for popular sovereignty. We would do well to heed his words communicated in the year of his death, “Manfully maintain our good old principle of cherishing and fortifying the rights and authorities of the people in opposition to those who fear them!”

   Ladies and gentlemen, this is a defining moment. Let us renew our confidence in the people of Alabama and refuse to compromise this fundamental liberty.


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