Monday, June 18, 2007

Pat Robertson doesn't want you to hear this man ...

If you live in the Seattle area, and you support separation of church and state, come join us on Wednesday evening. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, is speaking at Kane Hall, on the University of Washington campus. His presentation, which is open to the public, begins at 7:00 PM. The event is free.

If you would like to chat with Barry before the formal presentation begins, there is a reception that begins at 6:00 PM. The reception costs $10.

If you've never heard Barry Lynn in person I can tell you it's a real treat! Just ask Tengrain at Mock, Paper, Scissors.

On Thursday, Barry will be in Portland, OR, for an event at First Baptist Church (909 SW 11th). His presentation begins at 7:30 PM. It's sponsored by the local AU chapter and is open to the public.

I'll be at both events, so if you are reading this be sure to look for me and say hello.


Gary Aknos said...


Barry Lynn and the Hypocrisy of Separation

Americans United for the Separation of Church and State (AU) purports to be a non-sectarian, non-partisan organization with no religious affiliation and its Executive Director, the Rev. Barry Lynn, is prominently featured on television news programs whenever issues of religion and government cross. Although Lynn prides himself as an independent arbiter of where the line between church and state meet, his silence on his own denomination’s encroachment on Jefferson’s wall of separation is not only hypocritical, it ultimately undermines his own mission.

Lynn and Americans United issue dozens of statements each year regarding church and state conflicts and, at times, go as far as go as far as challenging the issues in court. Last May, Lynn chastised a $150,000 appropriation

the Maryland General Assembly granted for the National Baptist Congress of Christian Education (NBCCE) conference held in Baltimore. Lynn claimed the grant was “totally inappropriate and clearly unconstitutional.” He further stated that “religious groups should pass the collection plate to their own members, not the taxpayers.”

However, while Lynn was criticizing Maryland’s grant, his own denomination, the United Church of Christ (UCC), was busy securing a grant from the state of Connecticut for its convention (called a General Synod) which is being held later this month in Hartford. Lynn has been noticeably silent about the Connecticut grant even though it is clearly a greater offense to the Establishment Clause of the federal constitution than the Maryland grant.

The differences between the Maryland and Connecticut grants are dramatic. After a careful legal review, the Maryland Department of Budget & Management clearly distinguished secular events the grant could support from religious events the grant could not support. The secular events supported by the grant included additional transportation resources to help ease the strain that 50,000 convention attendees would put on public transportation services. Explicitly, access to the subsidized transportation services was not “restricted to members of a particular sect.”

In contrast to the Maryland grant, the Connecticut grant is being used exclusively to pay a $100,000 fee to the Hartford Civic Center for facilities to host the United Church of Christ General Synod which is clearly a religious event with worship services where the primary audience is UCC delegates and members.

Some have argued that the Connecticut grant serves the secular purpose of promoting economic development that the approximately 8,000 attendees to the UCC General Synod will bring to Hartford. Constitutionally speaking, the distinction is not dependent on the residual economic benefit that the aid could bring but on the religious effect of the aid.

The Maryland Department of Budget & Management defined the religious effect of their grant on similar court cases involving papal visits to Philadelphia and Washington D.C. In Gilfillan v. City of Philadelphia, the Third Circuit determined that aid for the building of a platform in a public park for a liturgical service rendered the religious effect of the aid “both plain and primary.” In contrast, O’Hair v. Andrus, the District of Columbia Circuit determined that the “provision of police, sanitation and related public services is a legitimate function of government and not an ‘establishment’ of religion.”

The distinction between the Connecticut grant and the Maryland grant couldn’t be clearer. In the Maryland case, the grant was used to help ease the burden on public transportation. In the Connecticut case, the grant is being used to defray the cost of the facilities to host a clearly religious event for the United Church of Christ.

When they were initially contacted last June about the Connecticut grant in light of Lynn’s public condemnation of the Maryland grant, Americans United promised that a complete investigation would be made. At a public church and state discussion forum in Columbus, Ohio last October, Lynn was asked specifically about the Americans United investigation. Lynn expressed concern about the grant but noted that further investigation was still needed.

Now, within a week of the UCC General Synod in Hartford and nearly a year after Americans United began their investigation, Lynn has yet to publicly disclose the results of his investigation into the grant that will benefit his own denomination.

Lynn is in a unique position on this issue. Part of his attraction as a public figure is his status as an ordained minister which he uses to legitimize his concern about the separation between church and state. However, if Lynn is incapable of addressing clear concerns that involve his own denomination, what credibility does he or Americans United have?

BAC said...

I'm not sure the "facts" are as you claim. Let's take a quick look at the Maryland case. Bob Erlich, while he was Maryland's governor, asked for $150,000 to subsidize the National Baptist Congress of Christian Education convention in Baltimore. In what might be considered a bidding war, the then Mayor of Baltimore -- Martin O'Malley -- said the city would chip in an additional $297,500 for the event. What made this at least a bit suspicious was that: 1) Baltimore’s convention center frequently hosts meetings of large national groups, most of which are not subsidized by the city or state governments; and 2) it was an election year and both men were candidates for governor. The bidding war appeared to be an old-fashioned, election-year payola scam, in an attempt to curry favor with African-American churches in advance of what was expected to be a close gubernatorial race.

Barry Lynn has commented on the Hartford UCC convention by saying: "Since I am an ordained UCC minister, this issue was of great concern to me. I expressed those concerns to denominational officials, and I also asked AU’s Legal Department to research the matter. AU attorneys did extensive research. They found that government officials in Connecticut give discounts to any group that brings a large crowd to town. What’s offered is a rebate, not direct aid, and thus cannot be diverted to support religion. Our lawyers’ view was that the courts would not rule against this kind of aid.

AU’s critic [a reference to Family Research Council's Tony Perkins] was upset because AU had blocked aid in a similar case involving a Baptist group that met in Baltimore last year. Why couldn’t we do the same for the UCC? The truth is, we were only able to block some of the aid in Baltimore – money that was intended to underwrite a proselytizing effort. An indirect subsidy consisting of reduced rent on the convention center was deemed “secular” and was permitted.

To be clear, I disagree with court opinions that allow rebates and so-called “indirect” aid. AU opposes government subsidies to religious groups. Religious groups should pay for their own endeavors. But again, we did research the matter and acted according to the facts.

Finally, I want to say that even though their language is not always kind, AU does appreciate its critics. They flatter us with their attention. AU strives to operate on principle, and we hope our critics do too."

My suggestion would be for anyone living in the Seattle or Portland, OR areas to come hear Barry in person, and ask him yourself.