April 17, 2005


Why Bush threatens secularism (Julia Duin, 4/14/05, THE WASHINGTON TIMES)

On New Year's Day 1802, President Jefferson wrote a letter to a Connecticut association of Baptists that would change American judicial history and define the boundaries of religious freedom.

"I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should 'make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,' " Jefferson wrote, quoting the First Amendment.

"Thus," he continued, "building a wall of separation between church and state."

Although not part of the Constitution, those concluding 10 words are considered by many Americans to be authoritative on the subject. Jefferson's letter celebrated religious liberty, yet the courts have cited his "wall" to bar faith and its forms from government, including schools, public parks and buildings.

The nation's third president sought to reassure the Danbury Baptist Association of Connecticut, representatives of a minority denomination that refused to conform to the established Congregationalist and Episcopal churches. He actually intended his letter to convince the Baptists that a state-established church would not trample their beliefs.

Jefferson's phrase did not enter the lexicon of constitutional law until 1879, when Supreme Court Chief Justice Morrison R. Waite quoted it in Reynolds v. United States, in which Mormon polygamist George Reynolds argued that the First Amendment allowed him to commit bigamy. The Supreme Court used the wall metaphor to explain that the Constitution was not meant to support specific Mormon practices.

In 1947, Justice Hugo L. Black resurrected "the wall of separation between church and state" in writing for the majority in Everson v. Board of Education, a New Jersey case asking whether the state should subsidize bus service for Catholic children in parochial schools.

"That wall must be kept high and impregnable," Justice Black wrote. "We could not approve the slightest breach."

The high court nevertheless upheld the state subsidy. This infuriated many Baptists, who traditionally have been among the strongest supporters of separation of church and state. They regarded the decision as favoring Catholics.

In 1947, Joseph Dawson, executive secretary of the Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs, founded Protestants and Other Americans United for the Separation of Church and State.

More than 50 years later, with the named shortened to Americans United for Separation of Church and State, the organization campaigns from its Capitol Hill offices against what it views as entanglements of religion and government.


[T]he group's executive director, the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, a minister with the United Church of Christ, among the most liberal Protestant denominations, maintains genial relations with conservatives. For four years, Mr. Lynn was co-host, with conservative commentator Oliver North, of a show on the Christian radio network Salem Communications. He is on the board of the American Civil Liberties Union and a regular analyst on Fox News.

"I do have very, very traditional religious beliefs," Mr. Lynn says. "Many people are surprised by that. That is something that's very much a part of who I am, but that shouldn't be a part of what government is."

Mr. Lynn is not easily painted as an "anti-Christian soldier." Government bans on abortion first galvanized him. As a freshman at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa., in the late 1960s, he discovered that his roommate had taken a girlfriend out of the country to terminate her pregnancy.

"All of a sudden, I realized that religious groups had now dictated what rights a woman has to make an intimate moral decision on her own," Mr. Lynn says. "And that was what triggered me, worrying about what damage it does for our country's fabric to have religious decisions guide a country's policy."

Traditional religious beliefs but he joined the anti-religious in order to legalize abortion?

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 17, 2005 12:00 AM

Barry Lynn is a liberal ass.

Posted by: jd watson at April 17, 2005 5:26 AM

What a load! Barry Lynn is a doctrinaire secularist with 'feel good' spiritual pretensions. He is one of the silliest, selectively informed commentators on the subject. People for the American Way would more appropriately be described as People for Barry Lynn's Way.

Posted by: Tom C., Stamford, Ct. at April 17, 2005 1:08 PM

There certainly is lots of room out there for religious conservatives who don't want the State to micromanage people's lives. It is sad that the debate on church/state relations in the media is between the extremists on both sides. Barry Lynn is far more hindrance than help.

Posted by: bart at April 17, 2005 2:48 PM

Lynn as a FoxNews analyst, they just needed somebody to show how loony the anti-religion, religionist left is today!

Posted by: Mike Daley at April 17, 2005 9:52 PM