On Nov. 20, at 8:41 p.m., Representative Town Meeting member Rodney Pinkham sent an e-mail to Town Clerk Robert Nye, First Selectman Dan Steward and RTM moderator Sharon Palmer. In it, he proposed a resolution recognizing the 300th anniversary of the First Baptist Church of Waterford.
"I thought it would be a nice, simple acknowledgment of the church's 300 years," Pinkham said. "I did not think it would be a big deal."
Pinkham was wrong. The resolution has gone through several revisions, and has drawn the ire of Nye and Town Attorney Robert Avena. It also has divided the RTM, and is expected to be the most controversial item on the agenda at tonight's RTM meeting, according to several government officials.
Role Of RTM? Government?
The original resolution by Pinkham gave a history of the church, and acknowledged the church's Christian values.
"Whereas, throughout the history (the church members) have nevertheless dedicated themselves to improvement of the human condition and contributed significantly to the growth of their Community, their State and their Nation by upholding the values of the Christian religion," Pinkham wrote.
That line drew criticism from both Nye and Avena. Nye revised the resolution, editing out mention of Christian values. Avena went one step further, editing the resolution to a shorter, "secularized" version. The revisions upset Pinkham, who fired back with his own e-mail.
"By all means, let all expression of a people submit to silence for the 1/10 of 1 percent who might take offense where none is attended, nor reasonably interpreted," he wrote. Pinkham reiterated his point in a later interview.
"This is supposed to be a very simply motion, and clearly somebody turned it into a First Amendment issue," he said, referring to a provision in the amendment that government cannot establish or favor a single religion. "Clearly this does not establish a religion, or endorse one over the other. It merely recognizes one."
Pinkham has refused to withdraw the motion, and plans on amending the revised one at tonight's meeting. The subject of the resolution, currently listed as "a congregation of believers," should be changed to Christians, he said.
Several RTM members have spoken against the resolution, saying it is not the job of the RTM.
"This isn't the function or the responsibility of the RTM," RTM Democratic leader Andrea Kanfer said. "It is not what we do."
The RTM has never had a request for a resolution before for anything, she said. Approving one now would start a precedent, she said.
"It is the job of the first selectman's office, who speaks for the whole town," she said. "It is not our job to get involved in this."
First Selectman Disapproves
The first selectman already has issued a proclamation for the 300th birthday for the church, as well as the governor's office and President Barack Obama. A resolution from the RTM is unnecessary, Steward said. The original resolution could be taken as an endorsement of the Christian religion, and that is not the role of government, Steward said.
"I don't think you want to go there," he said. "I have recognized churches before, and temples and everything else. The town will recognize the building and the congregation, but not the beliefs of any religion."
Pinkham remained firm, arguing his original resolution did not endorse any religion or value one over any other. The resolution has become a politically correct issue, to the point people are so scared to offend anybody they lose simple logic, he said.
Pinkham is a member of the First Baptist Church of Waterford. Both Pinkham and Steward are Republicans. The RTM's annual meeting is tonight, in Town Hall at 7:30.
Pinkham's original resolution:
"Whereas, in 1710 a Congregation of Believers of Christian faith removed themselves to the Western parts of New London, Connecticut, and Whereas, they formed there a Baptist Church, building for themselves a meeting house on Pepperbox Hill, which they shared with a Congregation of Seventh-Day Baptists, and Whereas, through 300 years they have persevered through many trials, including persecution & imprisonment, attack by British forces and the flaws of human character, and Whereas, throughout the history they have nevertheless dedicated themselves to improvement of the human condition and contributed significantly to the growth of their Community, their State and their Nation by upholding the values of the Christian religion, and, Whereas, they were present at the formation of the Town of Waterford, Connecticut in 1801, and have taken the name of The First Baptist Church of Waterford,Therefore, this 6 Day of December, in the year Two Thousand Ten, the Waterford Representative Town Meeting does recognize, congratulate and extend thanks the First Baptist Church of Waterford for their three hundred years of service to their Country, State, Town and fellow citizens"
"Whereas, in 1710 a congregation of believers formed a Baptist church, building for themselves a meeting house on a hill later known as "Pepperbox", which they shared with a congregation of Seventh-Day Baptists, and Whereas, through 300 years they have persevered in the face of many trials, including persecution and imprisonment, and Whereas, they have dedicated themselves to improvement of the human condition and contributed to the growth of their Community, their State and their Nation, and Whereas, since the establishment of the Town of Waterford in 1801 they have taken the name of "The First Baptist Church of Waterford", Therefore, this 6th day of December, in the year 2010, the Waterford Representative Town Meeting does recognize The First Baptist Church of Waterford for 300 years of service to their Country, State and Town."