Weston Ware served as director of the Peace Corps in Panama.

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Weston Ware served as director of the Peace Corps in Panama.

Weston Ware served as director of the Peace Corps in Panama.

Weston Ware served as director of the Peace Corps in Panama.

December 15, 1999

In two decades, Ware helped Baptists address gambling, liberty

By Ken Camp

Texas Baptist Communications

In nearly two decades working with the Texas Baptist Christian Life Commission, Weston Ware took unpopular stands on issues such as legalized gambling and separation of church and state.

Since his positions defied easy political labels of liberal or conservative, allies on one issue often became adversaries on others. Ware said he grew accustomed to staking out a spot in what he called "the radical middle" and "being shot at from both sides."

He started early. During a two-year stint with the Christian Life Commission in the early 1960s, Ware wrote an article for the Baptist Standard on "The Most Hated Woman in America." In it, he defended the rights of noted atheist Madalyn Murray O'Hair.

"I maintained that the religious liberty of every citizen should be strongly protected, whether that person is an atheist or Muslim, Buddhist or Baptist," Ware recalled. "That was the first time I took my licks in the Standard."

Many more followed. When he "got tired of writing pamphlets" and wanted more hands-on involvement in social action, he left the commission in 1966 to work 16 years in government service, including time as director of the Peace Corps in Panama. But Ware returned to the Texas CLC in 1982 as associate director in the areas of public policy and citizenship.

He retires Dec. 31 after serving as a registered lobbyist in the Texas Legislature through nine regular sessions and what he terms an "uncountable" number of called special sessions.

Ware directed much of his time and energy to fighting sometimes-unsuccessful battles against gambling. Although Texas eventually succumbed to the lure of pari-mutuel betting and a state-run lottery, Ware believes he and his allies helped to delay their arrival. They also managed to head off casinos and clamp down on the operation of illegal electronic slot machines.

"I'm most proud of having helped lead the battle to stop the expansion of gambling everywhere we could in this state," he said.

He plans to continue that fight in retirement, working with the executive committee of Texans Against Gambling and as chairman of the National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling.

Ware admits to feeling out-gunned in his efforts to sway legislators to oppose the spread of legalized gambling. The gambling industry hired multiple high-powered, multi-million-dollar lobbyists, and the lottery had the strong backing of then-Gov. Ann Richards.

"Sometimes I have been discouraged," Ware acknowledged. "But any review of the realities of the damage that gambling addiction does to individuals, families and to society at large makes one realize that gambling should be curtailed. My hope is still that one day the people of Texas will rise up to repeal the lottery and reinstate the restrictions on pari-mutuel gambling."

Ware served on the Governor's Task Force on Illegal Gambling, and he said one positive change he has seen take place in Texas government is greater openness to the message of gambling opponents. In the 1980s, some key leaders in state government were strong proponents of legalized gambling. In recent years, House Speaker Pete Laney and Gov. George W. Bush have been steadfastly opposed to further gambling expansion.

While Ware dealt with a variety of public policy issues, including the delicate matter of sex education in public schools, the one other than gambling with which he has been most closely identified has been separation of church and state.

He consistently took the position that "true faith does not need to be propped up or promoted by the government." That meant resisting efforts to use any public funds to advance the cause of religious schools and standing against mandated prayers in public schools and state-sponsored school events.

"There are people who would like to use prayer as a means of social control," Ware said. "But the church is not synonymous with the community. I believe strongly in the believers' church--the called out church that no one gets into without choosing to be a part of it, the church that is home to those who freely choose to believe and to commit themselves to that fellowship."

In addition to monitoring and lobbying the legislature on issues impacting religious liberty, Ware also was involved in the issue locally. Since the mid-1980s, he has served on a religious community task force with the Dallas Independent School District, safeguarding the free exercise rights of students and guarding against any state-sponsored religious practices.

"The religious liberty issue, in my mind, is the most fundamental and significant issue for Baptists in this century and the next as well," he said. "It is the thing that most clearly defines us as Baptists."

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This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Panama; Special Interests - Religion



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