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Church - State issues

“Unbridled Laughingstock”

On a proposed Noah's Ark theme park in Kentucky -- asking for government tax support      [12-16-10]


“Sometimes, you’ve got to laugh to keep from crying,” my Presbyterian grandmother, God rest her soul, used to say.

So it is with a $150 million Noah’s Ark theme park proposed for my native Kentucky. The project, called “Ark Encounter,” would feature, among other Bible-based attractions, a 500-foot wooden ark filled with live animals.

The developers are Christian conservatives who want state government to help subsidize the ark park with tourism development incentives that could add up to a hefty $37.5 million over 10 years, according to the Louisville Courier-Journal, the Bluegrass State's largest newspaper. Some of the developers are from Answers in Genesis, the group that runs the Creation Museum in Boone County, not far from the Grant County site chosen for the ark park.

“The tax incentives have sparked debate among experts on church-state issues as to whether they would violate the constitutional ban on the establishment of religion by government,” the Courier-Journal also reported.

“Evangelism is not just another business, and if the business is evangelism then constitutional rules are quite different than if you are subsidizing the opening of a new beauty salon,” the C-J quoted Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State.

Permit this 61-year-old Kentuckian to add a Presbyterian “amen” to Lynn’s analysis.

The Louisville paper also said that when the incentives are made official, Americans United will decide whether to take the state to court over them.

Anyway, I remembered my grandmother’s observation when I heard Gov. Steve Beshear had endorsed the ark park. I thought about her words again when Chris Hayes, the Nation magazine’s Washington editor, talked about the project on the “Countdown with Keith Olbermann” TV show.

“I was a little surprised a Democratic governor is doing this,” Hayes said to a guest. “It’s Kentucky,” the guest replied.

Both burst into laughter. I cringed.

“It’s Kentucky.” Here we go again.

The Creation Museum, which pushes phony “creation science,” has been rightly ridiculed by scientists and others – including many Kentucky Christians -- who don’t think evolution is “evil-lution.”

Meanwhile, I’ll chip in another “amen” to a Courier-Journal editorial  which pointed out that “even if technically legal (in that the law allowing the tax breaks doesn't discriminate against other religious or anti-religious views), a state role in a private facility that would be built by a group called Answers in Genesis and espouses a fundamentalist view resting on biblical inerrancy indirectly promotes a religious dogma. That should never be the role of government.”

The editorial was right on the money, too, when it suggested “… in a state that already suffers from low educational attainment in science, one of the last things Kentucky officials should encourage, even if only implicitly, is for students and young people to regard creationism as scientifically valid. Creationism is a nonsensical notion that the Earth is less than 6,000 years old. No serious scientist upholds that view, and sophisticated analysis of the Earth's minerals and meteorite deposits generally lead to an estimate that the planet is about 4.5 billion years old. Furthermore, creationism teaches that the Earth (including humans) was created in six days, thus rejecting the well-established science of evolution.”

The editorial concluded with a tongue-in-cheek revision of “Unbridled Spirit,” our state’s official slogan. The C-J suggested “Unbridled Laughingstock.”

The same “it’s Kentucky” snickering, head-shaking and eye-rolling we Kentuckians have had to endure over the Creation Museum is well underway with the ark park. Jay Leno suggested on his TV show that the park is “part of Kentucky’s plan to knock Mississippi out of last place in education.”

The Ark Encounter would be a close encounter of the worst kind for Kentucky, like the Creation Museum up the road.

The author:  Berry Craig is a professor of history at the West Kentucky Community and Technical College in Paducah. He and his wife, Melinda, are long-time members of the Witherspoon Society.

Obama signs order to reform faith-based office

Religion News Service reports on November 19:

President Obama signed an executive order Nov. 17 that reforms the White House’s faith-based office in a bid to improve transparency and clarify rules for religious groups that receive federal grants.

The nine-page order reflects numerous recommendations made more than six months ago by a blue-ribbon advisory council charged with streamlining and reforming the office created under former President George W. Bush.

“The recommendations that they’ve put forth make really concrete and tangible improvements to the government’s relationship with faith-based organizations,” said Joshua DuBois, director of the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.

The executive order, however, does not address controversial questions of whether grant recipients can hire and fire based on religion. Administration officials have said those questions will be considered on a case-by-case basis. More >>

Texas schools board rewrites US history with lessons promoting God and guns

US Christian conservatives drop references to slave trade and sideline Thomas Jefferson who backed church-state separation     [5-19-10]

Here’s a British take on the latest adventures in the religionizing of Texas schools. It begins:

Cynthia Dunbar does not have a high regard for her local schools. She has called them unconstitutional, tyrannical and tools of perversion. The conservative Texas lawyer has even likened sending children to her state's schools to "throwing them in to the enemy's flames". Her hostility runs so deep that she educated her own offspring at home and at private Christian establishments.

Now Dunbar is on the brink of fulfilling a promise to change all that, or at least point Texas schools toward salvation. She is one of a clutch of Christian evangelists and social conservatives who have grasped control of the state's education board. This week they are expected to force through a new curriculum that is likely to shift what millions of American schoolchildren far beyond Texas learn about their history.

More >>

Supreme Court hears crucial religious freedom case

from The Interfaith Alliance   [4-22-10]

Just this week, the United States Supreme Court heard oral argument on Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, a case that puts religious freedom and non-discrimination at odds. Interfaith Alliance has kept a close watch on this case and we weighed in on these complex, critical issues by filing a friend-of-the-court brief with our colleagues at the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty (BJC).

The issue in question is whether a public university, in this case the University of California's Hastings College of the Law, can deny school funds and other benefits to a religious student group, the Christian Legal Society (CLS), because it requires voting members and officers to sign a "Statement of Faith." This case could have far-reaching implications for the rights of religious groups at public universities and the extent to which the government can fund their activities.

In looking at this case, Interfaith Alliance and the Baptist Joint Committee chose to file for neither party instead of backing one particular side - and we were the only organizations to do so. Why? Because of our commitment to upholding religious freedom, we support the right of religious groups like CLS to maintain their autonomy, so we were unable to file for Hastings. But because of our commitment to preventing the government from funding religion, we don't believe CLS should be entitled to university funds, so we were unable to file for CLS.  

Instead, by filing for neither party, we made what we believe are the most crucial arguments in this case, that "the Court should avoid rendering a decision that allows direct funding of a private religious organization and their religious activities or that unduly curtails the expressive association rights of the organization."  

I hope you'll take a look at our brief which you'll find in our brand new, online Action Center, along with the press statement we issued on Monday. I also hope you will take a look at our current action alerts and email your elected officials about the critical issues facing our nation at the intersection of religion and politics today.


Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy

Two progressive faith groups express concern about “faith-based” government initiatives

The Interfaith Alliance supports recommendations by the White House Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, that would bring the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships in line with the Constitution's guarantees of both religious freedom and the separation of religion and government. But the Alliance calls on people to urge the President to support those recommendations.

And Americans United for Separation of Church and State expresses concern about the President’s willingness to do just that, since they believe he has failed thus far to correct problematic Bush-era rules that undercut civil rights and civil liberties.

AU provides more information, and The Interfaith Alliance offers a way to send messages to the White House.


From The Interfaith Alliance:

Ask President Obama to bring his faith-based office in line with the Constitution

The Interfaith Alliance – March 11, 2010

Just this morning, the White House Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships presented President Obama's Administration with recommendations that will bring the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships in line with the Constitution's guarantees of both religious freedom and the separation of religion and government. Interfaith Alliance needs you to contact the president  and ask him to implement these recommendations today!

The recommendations in this comprehensive report were developed throughout the past year by a number of experts on the subject of religious freedom, including our own Interfaith Alliance president, Rev. Gaddy. If implemented, these recommendations will:
bulletStrengthen the constitutional foundations of the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships
bulletProtect the religious freedom rights of social service beneficiaries and prevent proselytization
bulletIncrease transparency and accountability for the use of your tax dollars
bulletEnsure that government money does not flow directly to houses of worship

Now the decision is in President Obama's hands - join me in asking him to implement the Reform of the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships Recommendations through an Executive Order today!


Arielle Gingold
Public Policy Manager


Americans United for Separation of Church and State:

Obama Inaction On Faith-Based Initiative Is Deeply Disappointing, Says Americans United

March 9, 2010

Advisory Council Offers Recommendations Today, But Discriminatory Bush-Era Hiring Rules Remain In Place

A presidential advisory council is scheduled to offer recommendations today on the “faith-based” initiative and other issues, but critics say the report is overshadowed by President Barack Obama’s failure to fix problematic Bush-era rules that undercut civil rights and civil liberties.

The President’s Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships will issue recommendations about the White House faith-based office and a wide range of other issues during a day-long session at the White House.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State said, however, that the Obama administration needs to take action, not spend time studying reports.

“I am deeply disappointed at President Obama’s handling of the faith-based initiative,” said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director. “He has kept the harmful Bush-era policies in place and added a constitutionally inappropriate council of religious leaders to offer policy advice. This is not separation of church and state.

“A year has passed,” Lynn continued, “and the president has failed to take steps to carry out his promise to ban religious discrimination in publicly funded social services. He has also failed to take effective action to bar proselytizing. Change is long overdue.”

Lynn noted that the American people want the president to act. According to a 2008 Pew Research Center poll, 61 percent of Americans say groups that encourage religious conversion should not be eligible for public funding. An overwhelming 73 percent say organizations that hire only people who share their religious beliefs should not receive government grants.

During a July 1, 2008, Zanesville, Ohio, speech, Obama promised to end Bush administration policies that permit publicly funded faith-based social service programs to proselytize and discriminate in hiring based on religion.

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.


Nominee to be Secretary of the Army has poor record on church-state issues, says watchdog group     [7-30-09]
News release from Americans United for Separation of Church and State, July 29, 2009
Americans United for Separation of Church and State today asked the Senate Armed Services Committee to question U.S. Rep. John M. McHugh about his views on religious liberty and the rights of religious minorities.
McHugh, who currently represents New York's 23rd District in the House of Representatives, has been nominated by President Barack Obama to be the Secretary of the Army. His confirmation hearing is tomorrow.
Americans United says McHugh has a troubling record when it comes to separation of church and state.
"As a member of the House, McHugh repeatedly voted for or cosponsored proposals that would undermine the wall of separation between church and state," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "We must have assurances that as Secretary of the Army, he will support the rights of men and women of all faiths and none."

More >> 

America is not a Christian nation    [4-15-09]

Religious conservatives argue the Founding Fathers intended the United States to be a Judeo-Christian country. But President Obama is right when he says it isn't. joins the flood of laments and/or celebrations of the President Obama’s recently express view that the U.S. is no longer a “Christian nation” – if it ever was. In case you missed it, he said in his April 6 press conference in Turkey: “... we do not consider ourselves a Christian nation or a Jewish nation or a Muslim nation. We consider ourselves a nation of citizens who are bound by ideals and a set of values.”

Michael Lind lays out four main arguments by those who say Yes, it is a Christian nation, and then offers a brief critique of each of them.

The full article >>

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Mix of politics, religion appears a recipe for disaster     [6-4-08]

[Scroll down for comments from visitors.]

Peter S. Canellos, Washington bureau chief for the Boston Globe, takes another look at the current mixing of religion with politics, and sees a fairly ugly picture. He begins:

The 2008 primary election campaign began with candidates scrambling to embrace religious leaders, and it's ending with candidates rushing to repudiate them. An election cycle that was supposed to usher in the marriage of religion and politics may be hastening its divorce.

From the evangelical ministers who questioned the fitness of a Mormon to be president, to the religious-right activists who denounced John McCain as godless, to the McCain-backing radio preacher who said Hitler was fulfilling God's will, to Barack Obama's longtime minister who blamed the United States for the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, to Obama's Catholic adviser who last week mocked Hillary Clinton, the clergy haven't just made a bad show of it: They've behaved like small-minded bigots.

These preachers have managed the amazing feat of making all the politicians involved in the campaign seem, by comparison, more tolerant, more reasonable, and less self-interested.

What do you think?
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with your own analysis of the faith-and-politics issue
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More thoughts – hopeful ones – on religion and politics     [6-11-08]

On June 4, we posted a link to a recent article by Peter Canellos, proclaiming that the “mix of politics, religion appears a recipe for disaster,” followed by a response to the article by Elder James Green.

We've just received another thoughtful comment, from the Rev. Betty Hale, who writes:

I agree with both Canellos of the Boston Globe and Elder Green of Milwaukee – the headlines have certainly highlighted Christian ministers in some of their worst moments, and the YouTube clips of Rev. Wright regrettably omit the points he was making. I've been thinking recently how we don't seem to have a national spiritual voice to turn to these days, and that for myself – in addition to Witherspoon! – Rabbis Arthur Waskow of the Shalom Center and Michael Lerner of Tikkun are the leaders I especially look to. Especially moving are two recent emails from Rabbi Waskow that I'm forwarding; and below – on a whole different level! – is my "Wright" Letter to the Editor (Durham Herald-Sun) after the "Press Club" weekend. I hope Sen. Obama and Rev. Wright will soon be able to devote the time necessary to heal the misunderstanding between them.

Betty Hale

Her letter to the Durham paper:

I believe the Rev. Jeremiah Wright is a prophet out of the tradition of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Amos. They were known for harsh rhetoric, too: The earlier Jeremiah was accused of treason and thrown into a well; Isaiah, tradition has it, was sawn in two. None of us likes to have our errors spoken of, but Rev. Wright speaks of ours, whatever our shade of skin. Like the prophets of old, he likewise calls for transformation and reconciliation, a term I count 17 times in his prepared remarks at the National Press Club.

I recommend we all read a transcript from the Press Club – and watch the whole 9/11 sermon, in which he was urging us to respond to 9/11 in a way different from Psalm 137, which revengefully speaks of dashing one's enemies' babies' heads against the rocks – lashing out, not caring what innocents get hurt. Instead, Wright says, he was hearing from God that these first days are a time of self-examination, starting with himself.

I grant, Rev. Wright does not speak in the measured tones of diplomacy, nor did his forebears – but I believe he is correct that he stands in the prophetic theological tradition, and we will benefit from his invitations to transformation and reconciliation.

Elizabeth B. Hale
Former chaplain in long-term care

The two notes from Rabbi Arthur Waskow are:

•          Litany of Ashes, Stones, & Flowers – a service designed especially for use on Memorial Day, incorporating the names of Americans and Iraqis who have been killed in the Iraq war. It makes use of a pot or basket of ashes, one of stones, and one of flowers, and a large bowl of water – or a body of water (lake, river) -- at the place of the service. This litany was created by Rev. Patricia Pierce of Tabernacle United Church, Philadelphia, and Rabbi Arthur Waskow of The Shalom Center in Philadelphia.

•          An essay by Rabbi Waskow entitled “Be comforted, My people! – Spirituality of Justice.” He sees in the nomination campaigns of Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barrack Obama some promise of real comfort and healing for the people of the U.S., as they help us more toward a more truly inclusive society. He sees hope, too, in the broader and deeper engagement in the political process, of people long excluded. He hopes that the campaign as it continues will help more both candidates toward new visions for a nation in which the well-being and peace of all people is cared for, and “ ‘comfort’ is not the lolling of the comfortable, but the spiritual work of turning hope into reality.”

A response


Elder James M. Green, of Milwaukee, responded with these comments:

The media have trivialized and distorted religion in the current campaign, especially in their "treatment" of Jeremiah Wright. The fact that religious leaders of all faiths have not spoken out firmly in reply (e.g., has any leader other than Bill Moyers supported Wright's prophetic ministry?) may mean that most religious leaders think that religion – especially prophetic statements of religion such as Wright's – is irrelevant.

I still think Wright should be supported by people of faith, especially Christians and Jews, in a non-partisan fashion. A full reading of his interviews, press conferences, and sermons (at least the ones in question) leads me to find nothing substantial to question about his ministry.

 I am, by the way, encouraged that many are beginning to look at the whole question of "American Empire" – especially some process theologians such as John Cobb and David Griffin (American Empire and God's Commonwealth for example) and Biblical scholars such as John Dominic Crossan.


American Christendom, RIP     [9-8-07]

The Rev. Dr. D. James Kennedy, the Christian Right leader Rolling Stone magazine described as "the most influential evangelical you’ve never heard of," died September 5 in Florida of complications from a heart attack. His passing, only months after the death of Jerry Falwell, signals the generational shift of leadership now occurring in evangelical Christian circles.

Diana Butler Bass, a scholar in American religion and author of Christianity for the Rest of Us: How the Neighborhood Church is Transforming the Faith, sees this as one more step toward the clear end of an age when American Protestants viewed their faith as the guiding light of their nation’s life and culture, and saw that linkage as necessary for the well-being of their church.

It’s not necessarily so, she argues, and it’s time to recognize this shift in American life, and to stop claiming that evangelical Protestantism should dominate American political discourse.   Read her essay >>

An observation on the growth of Catholic power in U.S. politics

from Gene TeSelle, Witherspoon Issues Analyst   [3-22-06]

The confirmation of Samuel Alito's appointment means that a majority of Supreme Court justices are Roman Catholics. In order of appointment, they are Antonin Scalia (1986), Anthony Kennedy (1988), Clarence Thomas (1991), John Roberts (2005), and Samuel Alito (2006). Clarence Thomas was raised as a Catholic, attended an Episcopal church with his wife, and returned to Catholicism in the late 1990s.

This is not only a statistical first in the history of the U.S. It also represents a sea change in American politics, which was strongly anti-Catholic until recent decades.

In 1960, Democratic candidate John F. Kennedy traveled to Texas to address a group of Southern Baptist ministers. The Southern Baptist Convention had unanimously adopted a resolution expressing grave doubts over a Catholic becoming president..

At the meeting in Houston, Kennedy said, "I do not speak for my church on public matters — and the church does not speak for me." That reassured many Southern Baptists, who 45 years ago were strong champions of church-state separation.

But that was before the civil rights struggles of the Sixties, and before the subtle or not-so-subtle appeals to Southern whites by Barry Goldwater, George Wallace, and Richard Nixon, leading the majority of white Southerners to switch from the traditional Democratic Party to a new, carefully crafted Republican Party.

Today, Southern Baptists are more likely to be allied with the Catholic church, not only on issues like abortion, stem-cell research, or same-sex unions, but also on the relation between church and state. Some bishops have even declared that Catholic candidates or officials should be denied communion if they fail to follow the church's teachings.

There is another significant difference from the Sixties. The Second Vatican Council, which met from 1962 to 1965, spoke out strongly about the need for social, economic, and political justice, with especially noteworthy consequences in Latin America and elsewhere in the Third World. Today the Vatican and most Catholic bishops take a much more cautious approach to social issues. Some of the most powerful Catholic voices in the U.S. take a line that is almost indistinguishable from the conservative Opus Dei.

There are some cracks, however, in the conservative coalition that has developed in recent decades. The official position of the Catholic Church is one of opposition to the death penalty, quite at variance with the "personal responsibility" emphasis of most evangelicals.

And recently Cardinal Mahony of Los Angeles has confronted the House of Representatives and the administration over their immigration policy, and especially the provision, already passed in the House, that would require churches and other social organizations to ask immigrants for legal documentation before providing any services to them. If they do not, it would be a federal crime, punishable by up to five years' imprisonment and seizure of assets.

On the Bible and the Constitution   [3-22-06]

On Wednesday, March 1st, 2006, in Annapolis at a hearing on the proposed Constitutional Amendment to prohibit gay marriage, Jamie Raskin, professor of law at American University, was requested to testify.

At the end of his testimony, Republican Senator Nancy Jacobs said: "Mr. Raskin, my Bible says marriage is only between a man and a woman. What do you have to say about that?"

Raskin replied: "Senator, when you took your oath of office, you placed your hand on the Bible and swore to uphold the Constitution. You did not place your hand on the Constitution and swear to uphold the Bible."

The room erupted into applause.

Did he really say this?  Stop in at Raskin’s own website >>
(He is a candidate for the Maryland State Senate.)

Americans United welcomes Florida Supreme Court decision striking down school voucher plan

Religious liberty watchdog group calls ruling a victory for public education and church-state separation

News release dated January 5, 2006 [posted here 1-7-06]

Americans United for Separation of Church and State today hailed a Florida Supreme Court decision striking down the state’s school voucher program.

"This is an important victory for public education and church-state separation," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "Now the state legislature can devote its attention to improving public education rather than subsidizing religious and other private schools. The children of Florida deserve the very best public schools the state can provide. Taxpayer dollars should be spent in public schools, not private religious academies."

The Florida high court, voting 5-2, struck down the state’s "Opportunity Scholarship Program, "holding that it violates a section of the Florida Constitution requiring a uniform system of free public schools.

Americans United co-sponsored the Bush v. Holmes lawsuit along with its allies in the public education and civil liberties communities.

Opponents of the voucher program asserted that the scheme ran afoul of the "uniform public schools" provision of Florida Constitution, as well as its church-state separation provisions. Although lower state courts cited the church-state provisions, the Florida Supreme Court did not rule on that subject, saying it was not unnecessary to address that issue since the plan was unconstitutional under the "uniform" provision.

Florida legislators passed the voucher law in 1999 at the behest of Gov. Jeb Bush. The program provides vouchers for private school tuition for students enrolled in public schools deemed "failing." More than half of the participating private schools in the voucher plan are religious.

In its decision, the Florida high court noted that parents retain the right to educate their children as they see fit.

"Our decision does not deny parents recourse to either public or private school alternatives to a failing school," declared the court majority. "Only when the private school option depends upon public funding is choice limited."

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.

Antiwar sermon brings IRS warning   [11-7-05]

All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena risks losing its tax-exempt status because of a former rector's remarks in 2004.

The Los Angeles Times reports that the Internal Revenue Service has warned one of Southern California's largest and most liberal churches that it is at risk of losing its tax-exempt status because of an antiwar sermon two days before the 2004 presidential election.

The full story >>

Religious leaders rally in Nashville to present an alternative to the religious right’s "Justice Sunday II"

Conservative Christians press for confirmation of John Roberts to Supreme Court   

bulletGene TeSelle reports on the "Faith and Freedom" rally
bulletThe full text of Rita Nakashima Brock's address at the rally
bullet Local press reports on the various rallies, right and left
Justice Sunday II called ‘Sacrilegious’ by Interfaith Alliance President

A news release from The Interfaith Alliance

Washington, July 14 – Today, the Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, President of The Interfaith Alliance, responded to the announcement that leaders of the religious right will host – in a church -- another simulcast television program, "Justice Sunday II."

"Here we go again!" Gaddy said. "And, this time the imagery and the implications of the message advanced by leaders of the religious right are more offensive, sacrilegious, and undemocratic than those so integral to Justice Sunday I.

"Right now, the most serious threats to the fundamental rights and liberties in our nation are not coming from a lack of God’s interest but from a small group of religious right leaders who have assumed the mantle of national religious authorities and seek to impose on the whole nation and its constitution their particular views on religion, the courts, politics, and justice.

"One can only wonder about the sincerity of the prayerful plea, ‘God save the United States and this Honorable Court’ when members of the religious right have disparaged certain members of the Supreme Court and some even have prayed for the demise of these members.

"There is no confusion, only manipulation—a manipulation of the holy name of God and a manipulation of the United States Constitution—in the implicit suggestion that only a Supreme Court nominee who wins the approval of the religious right is a suitable, God-endorsed candidate for the highest court in our nation.

"Let us get the language straight. Those of us who are concerned about the status of religious liberty in this nation do not want ‘activist judges’ ruling on the constitutionality of various issues. We want conservative judges who will not waver in providing for the citizens of this nation religious liberty which means, one, the guarantee of no establishment of religion and, thus, no entanglement between the institutions of religion and government, and, two, the free exercise of religion for people of all faiths and people of no faith and providing for the citizens of this nation the basic civil rights for which the Constitution was written apart from whether or not any person meets the litmus tests of acceptability established by the religious right.

"Neither the religions nor the government of this nation will be well served by such pontificating by the religious right. We urge the Family Research Council and its colleagues, please don’t put our nation through this again."

The Interfaith Alliance (TIA) is a nonpartisan, grassroots organization dedicated to promoting the positive and healing role of religion in the life of the nation and challenging those who manipulate religion to promote a narrow, divisive agenda. With more than 150,000 members drawn from more than 75 faith traditions, and 47 local alliances, TIA promotes compassion, civility and mutual respect for human dignity in our increasingly diverse society.

A Church-State Solution?

Church-State issues loom large these days, from the White House to the Supreme Court to many communities around the country. There seem to be two absolutely opposing positions, as some advocate making America a "Christian nation," while others want to keep religion and political life two entirely separate worlds.

Noah Feldman, writing in the New York Times, suggests the two warring groups might best be understood as the "values evangelicals," who insist on the direct relevance of religious values to political life , versus the ''legal secularists,'' who see religion as a matter of personal belief largely irrelevant to government and who see religious values as a divisive factor in our national life.

He suggests the solution might be found by giving a legitimate place to religious language and symbols in our political debates, while maintaining an absolute ban on government funding support for religious groups.

Noah Feldman is a professor at the New York University School of Law and a fellow at the New America Foundation. His book Divided by God: America's Church-State Problem -- and What We Should Do About It, from which the article is adapted, has just been published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

Read the essay,
and let us know what you think.
Just send a note.

An attempt to hijack Christianity

Sojourners’ editor Jim Wallis was in Louisville last week-end for an interfaith "Freedom and Faith" service at Central Presbyterian Church, which called for a very different view of the relation of faith and politics than that being pushed in the televised event calling on "people of faith" to defend themselves on the alleged attacks on the by those who are defending the power of the Senate to deal seriously with some questionable nominees for federal judgeships.

He urged people to "take back our faith" from those who seems intent on hijackiing it for their conservative political agenda, and declaring anyone who disagrees as being an enemy of faith.

He concludes:

This is a call for the rest of the churches to wake up. This is a call for people of faith everywhere to stand up and let their faith be heard. This is not a call to be just concerned, or just a little worried, or even just alarmed. This is a call for clear speech and courageous action. This is a call to take back our faith, and in the words of the prophet Micah, "to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God."

Read his full essay >>

Religion as a litmus test for judges?

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist plans to join with the conservative Family Research Council, demanding support for judicial nominees on grounds of religious and moral convictions. 

Many faith-based groups are raising objections and urging the people contact their representatives in Washington.

Various press reports provide helpful background.


NCC general secretary voices deep concern

Dr. Robert Edgar, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches USA, has sent an open letter to the media, expressing his concern about the campaign being launched by the Family Research Council with the support of Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, pushing the view that "those who disagree with them on President Bush's judicial nominees are ‘against people of faith.’" Edgar says this effort "serves to further polarize our nation, and it disenfranchises and demonize good people of faith who hold political beliefs that differ from theirs."


Advocacy groups for religious and civil rights urge people of faith to reject Senator Frist's co-option of religion.

As world leaders gather in Rome, our Washington Office reminds us of Presbyterian perspectives on church-state relations

As the world mourns the death of Pope Paul II, this email serves as a reminder of what the General Assembly has said regarding government to church relations. The news is full of stories about the official US delegation and how many former Presidents should be in attendance at the funeral. The information below is taken from an introductory section of the Social Witness Policy Compilation of the Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy (ACSWP). General Assemblies, over the years, have continued to support church to church relationships between the PC(USA) and the Roman Catholic Church as part of our ecumenical efforts.   [4-6-05]
Coalition calls on President Bush to take swift and appropriate action on severe violators of religious freedom   [11-22-04]

A coalition of religious leaders, religious freedom advocates, and human rights activists has called on President George W. Bush to act swiftly and appropriately in regard to Eritrea, Saudi Arabia, and Vietnam as newly-designated "Countries of Particular Concern for Severe Violations of Religious Freedom."

They say that "The President has an extraordinary and historic opportunity to demonstrate that the United States is interested in acting on religious freedom as well as speaking about it."

Catholic bishops play politics   [5-26-04]

Anna Quindlen, writing in Newsweek, dissects the current efforts by Roman Catholic bishops to use their ecclesiastical power to influence national politics - barring from communion any politician who dares to defend women's right to choose, and more.

"It is one thing," she writes, "to preach the teachings of the church, quite another to use the centerpiece of the faith [the eucharist] selectively as a tool to influence the ballot box, that confessional of democracy. Even a member of Congress opposed to abortion complained that church leaders were 'politicizing the eucharist.'" This will be one more step, she warns, in the long process of the Catholic Church's loss of authority among its own people.

Federal Election Commission proposal threatens issue advocacy by religious and other nonpartisan groups    [4-1-04]

The Presbyterian Washington Office has provided information on new regulations proposed by the Federal Election Commission (FEC) that could subject nonpartisan issue advocacy and voter mobilization efforts to restrictions meant for campaigns and other partisan groups. These include a ban on corporate contributions (including foundations and unions) and added reporting and disclosure requirements. The rule could take effect in June or July, and apply retroactively. Churches (including the Washington Offices of the denominations) are 501(c) 3's.

Avenues for action and further information are provided.

Would God side with the atheist against "under God"??    [3-29-04]

As atheist Michael Newdow argued before the Supreme Court this week that the words "under God" don't belong in the Pledge of Allegiance, he had some surprising allies. Learn why some religious groups backed Newdow's suit, and join Beliefnet's lively pledge debate.

Religion on Display in National Parks    [1-8-04]

America's national parks are getting a conservative Christian makeover. Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) has released documentation showing that the Bush Administration is "sponsoring a program of Faith-Based Parks," including selling new books of Creationist explanations for the Grand Canyon at Park Service gift shops, and re-editing a documentary video shown at the Lincoln Memorial to remove images of gay and abortion rights demonstrations that took place at the memorial.

From Utne Web Watch

Changing roles of religion in society

Academic panelists discuss controversial book on The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity, and "Bush, the War, and Religious Rhetoric."   [11-26-03]

Gene TeSelle summarizes some of the criticisms and defenses of Philip Jenkins' thesis that the Christianity of the world's South, which is "traditionalist, orthodox, and supernatural," will soon dominate the Christian scene as the northern nations become more "post-Christian." The panel on Bush's religious rhetoric took a generally moderate view of what the President has been doing with religious language, with David Brooks observing that the President's speeches contain no more religious language than is typical of the civil religion of past presidents. TeSelle adds that Brooks also "emphasized what to some observers has been obvious, that almost no theology is reflected in the speeches."

U.S. Supreme Court refuses to hear final appeal of 'Ten Commandments Judge' Roy Moore  [11-3-03]

Academic panelists discuss controversial book on The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity, and "Bush, the War, and Religious Rhetoric."


by Gene TeSelle, Witherspoon Society Issues Analyst

Gene TeSelle summarizes some of the criticisms and defenses of Philip Jenkins' thesis that the Christianity of the world's South, which is "traditionalist, orthodox, and supernatural," will soon dominate the Christian scene as the northern nations become more "post-Christian." The panel on Bush's religious rhetoric took a generally moderate view of what the President has been doing with religious language, with David Brooks observing that the President's speeches contain no more religious language than is typical of the civil religion of past presidents. TeSelle adds that Brooks also "emphasized what to some observers has been obvious, that almost no theology is reflected in the speeches."

Action ends long-running case with victory for church-state separation, says Americans United 

What's the role of religious beliefs in a civil society?   [8-16-03]

A recent article by syndicated columnist Jonah Goldberg, published in the Philadelphia Inquirer, posed the interesting (and currently pressing) question: "Should judges be disqualified if their religious beliefs impact their votes?" Goldberg suggests - or even asserts - that it is religious prejudice to object to Supreme Court nominees who take strong positions on the basis of their faith.

This is an issue of great concern to many conservative Presbyterians (among lots of others), as evidenced by its inclusion in the PresbyWeb listings for Thursday, August 14, 2003.

Witherspoon Issues Analyst offers some thoughts on various ways our society and our theologians have tried to define a proper - and properly limited - role for religious faith in political discourse.

For another take on this question try:
"America is a religion"  

For another perspective on religion and politics in America, you might consider a provocative essay in The Guardian, by George Monbiot.

To explain why the Bush administration is so selective in its "intelligence" about the world, and specifically about Iraq, he says that

The United States is no longer just a nation. It is now a religion. Its soldiers have entered Iraq to liberate its people not only from their dictator, their oil and their sovereignty, but also from their darkness. As George Bush told his troops on the day he announced victory, "wherever you go, you carry a message of hope - a message that is ancient and ever new. In the words of the prophet Isaiah, 'To the captives, "come out," and to those in darkness, "be free."

So American soldiers are no longer merely terrestrial combatants; they have become missionaries. They are no longer simply killing enemies; they are casting out demons.

He concludes:

The dangers of national divinity scarcely require explanation. Japan went to war in the 1930s convinced, like George Bush, that it possessed a heaven-sent mission to "liberate" Asia and extend the realm of its divine imperium. It would, the fascist theoretician Kita Ikki predicted, "light the darkness of the entire world". Those who seek to drag heaven down to earth are destined only to engineer a hell.

The full text of this article is available on Monbiot's own website and on The Guardian's site.

Who is this man Monbiot? You can check the "Who I am" page on his website.  When you finish you may wonder what he does for adventure. 

Go see for yourself.

Display of 10 Commandments rejected by federal court   [11-21-02]

A federal court in Alabama has struck down display of a Ten Commandments monument at the state supreme court building in Montgomery, declaring that the religious sculpture violates the First Amendment's church-state separation provisions. 

If you're interested in finding positive ways of teaching about the Ten Commandments, check out a listing of resources provided by the Rev. Bruce Gillette of First Presbyterian Church, Pitman, NJ.

Legal analysis of the "Political Speech Bill"

The Presbyterian Washington Office has provided more information on the "Political Speech Bill," HR2357, which would give churches and pastors greater freedom to engage in direct political activities. This legal analysis of the bill has been provided by the Office of Management and Budget. Basically the paper argues that, contrary to the claims of the bill's proponents, the bill is not needed to allow religious leaders to speak on issues, and the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 will not prevent religious congregations from spending funds on partisan electioneering if H.R. 2357 becomes law.


Presbyterian Washington Office sounds a warning:

Legislation would let religious leaders endorse candidates from the pulpit.

The right can't lose: If it fails, they'll have a campaign issue to use against opponents in November.  [9-5-02]


Leading religious groups urge opposition to House bills that would allow churches to endorse candidates and otherwise involve themselves in partisan political activities.  [9-13-02]

Church freedom vs. the common interest?  [8-10-02]

PresbyWeb recently took note of a report from Southern California that a federal judge has blocked the city of Cypress in its effort to condemn church-owned land to allow for the building of a new Costco store. Gene TeSelle comments that this points to a major legal controversy brewing.

Religion and the State: Justice Antonin Scalia offers a classic Catholic view (and for some an alarming viewe) of the divinely given authority of the state


Speaking at the University of Chicago Divinity School earlier this year, Justice Antonin Scalia had the opportunity to give a clear exposition of his view of "church and state." Among other points he revealed his view that democracy is really the enemy of the divine authority of the state, adding that "The reaction of people of faith to this tendency of democracy to obscure the divine authority behind government should not be resignation to it, but the resolution to combat it as effectively as possible."

Speaking of the death penalty, Scalia said that "the more Christian a country is the less likely it is to regard the death penalty as immoral."

Sean Wilentz, co-author of The Kingdom of Matthias, and director the American studies program at Princeton University, wrote this report as an Op Ed piece in the New York Times for July 8, 2002.

Vouchers and Pledgesmore comments on the shifting lines between state and church  [7-3-02]
The 9th District Circuit Court ruling that the mention of God in the Pledge of Allegiance violates the First Amendment prohibition on the establishment of religion has attracted much attention ... and argument.

The group Equal Partners in Faith has offered one statement in support of the decision.  [6-27-02]

We welcome other views -- your own or those you've seen somewhere else.  Just send a note!

Should churches support candidates for election?  [2-8-02]

The Presbyterian Washington Office reports that Congress now has a bill that would remove the IRS regulation against houses of worship supporting or opposing particular candidates during an election.

They offer a comment from our Constitutional Services department in reference to the issue as well as an article by Laura Goodstein.  You may want to contact your member of the House with your opinion on this.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State sees Supreme Court action on Ten Commandments display as a healthy step against "government-supported religion."  [5-31-01]

U.S. Supreme Court rejects case on Government-sponsored Ten Commandments display

Inaction by high court means Indiana religious display must come down

[Media release from Americans United for Separation of Church and State, May 29, 2001]  [posted here on 5-31-01]

The U.S. Supreme Court announced today that it would not hear an appeal of an Indiana case dealing with a government-sponsored Ten Commandments monument displayed on public property.

The high court's rejection of Books v. City of Elkhart allows a lower court ruling prohibiting government endorsement of the Commandments to stand.

Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which filed a brief in the case at the appeals court level, said this is the latest in a long line of setbacks for supporters of government-sponsored religion.

Eventually opponents of church-state separation will learn that the law is not on their side," said the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United. "Religion simply doesn't need the government's help to promote the Ten Commandments.

Today's announcement should help bring the Religious Right's Ten Commandments crusade to a screeching halt," added Lynn. "The writing on the church-state wall is clear: It's not the government's job to promote religion."

justices, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Chief Justice William Rehnquist, took the unusual step of issuing a dissent today, announcing they wanted to hear the case. Rehnquist, writing for the three, said the Commandments monument "simply reflects the Ten Commandments' role in the development of our legal system." (The votes of four justices are needed to hear a case.)

response, Justice John Paul Stevens issued a statement of his own. He wrote that Scalia, Thomas and Rehnquist failed to note that the Elkhartmonument begins with the lines, "THE TEN COMMANDMENTS -- I AM the LORD thy God," which appears in a larger type size than the rest of the Commandments. "The graphic emphasis place on those first lines," Stevens said, "is rather hard to square with the proposition that the monument expresses no particular religious preference...."

issue was a Ten Commandments monument erected in front of the city municipal building in Elkhart, Ind., in 1958. Local residents William Books and Michael Suetkamp filed suit against the city in 1998 over the granite tablet, which is 6 feet tall and stands alone in front of the city building.

Last December, the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the display violates the separation of church and state.

TV preacher Pat Robertson's legal group, the American Center for Law and Justice, was representing Elkhart and encouraged the high court to consider an appeal.

Supreme Court's decision to not to hear the case represents yet another hindrance for the Religious Right.

Controversy over government endorsement of the religious text has grown dramatically in recent years. Religious Right groups such as the Family Research Council have aggressively lobbied for government displays of the Ten Commandments in city halls, public schools and other public buildings.

In addition, congressional legislation, such as the "Ten Commandments Defense Act," has been introduced several times to allow displays of the Decalogue in public buildings. Similarly, over the past two years, 18 state legislatures have considered bills on the issue.

The Elkhart case had generated interest from attorneys general in seven states, each of whom urged the Supreme Court to hear the Elkhart case, including Alabama, Mississippi, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Carolina and Texas.

Even President George W. Bush weighed in on the issue during the 2000 campaign, indicating that he would support changing the law to allow the display of the "standard version" of the Commandments in public schools and other buildings. In fact, there is no standard version -- different faith traditions use different interpretations.

Advocates of government-sponsored religious displays have fared poorly in courts. Over the last three years, state and federal courts have struck down Commandments displays in South Carolina, Kansas, Kentucky and Indiana in a separate case.

"Experience shows that state promotion of religion cheapens and demeans genuine faith," concluded Lynn. "There's an easy solution to this controversy: Let religious groups promote the Ten Commandments. The government should stay out of it."

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization represents 60,000 members and allied houses of worship in all 50 states.
A pastor suggests positive ways of teaching the Ten Commandments in our churches   [5-30-01]

Some blogs worth visiting

PVJ's Facebook page

Mitch Trigger, PVJ's Secretary/Communicator, has created a Facebook page where Witherspoon members and others can gather to exchange news and views. Mitch and a few others have posted bits of news, both personal and organizational. But there’s room for more!

You can post your own news and views, or initiate a conversation about a topic of interest to you.


John Shuck’s new "Religion for Life" website

Long-time and stimulating blogger John Shuck, a Presbyterian minister currently serving as pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethton, Tenn., writes about spirituality, culture, religion (both organized and disorganized), life, evolution, literature, Jesus, and lightening up.

Click here for his blog posts.

Click here for podcasts of his radio program, which "explores the intersection of religion, social justice and public life."


John Harris’ Summit to Shore blogspot

Theological and philosophical reflections on everything between summit to shore, including kayaking, climbing, religion, spirituality, philosophy, theology, The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), New York City and the Queens neighborhood of Ridgewood -- by a progressive New York City Presbyterian Pastor. John is a former member of the Witherspoon board, and is designated pastor of North Presbyterian Church in Flushing, NY.


Voices of Sophia blog

Heather Reichgott, who has created this new blog for Voices of Sophia, introduces it:

After fifteen years of scholarship and activism, Voices of Sophia presents a blog. Here, we present the voices of feminist theologians of all stripes: scholars, clergy, students, exiles, missionaries, workers, thinkers, artists, lovers and devotees, from many parts of the world, all children of the God in whose image women are made. .... This blog seeks to glorify God through prayer, work, art, and intellectual reflection. Through articles and ensuing discussion we hope to become an active and thoughtful community.


Got more blogs to recommend?

Please send a note, and we'll see what we can do!


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