On Friday a Religious Right legal group called the Liberty Institute published an article titled “5 Dangerous Enemies Against Your Christian Faith” on the site Charisma News.
Americans United made the top five! There we are, right alongside American Atheists, the American Humanist Association, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Freedom From Religion Foundation. (Sounds like good company to me –and don’t be sad that we’re number four; the list is alphabetical.)
Liberty Institute correctly reports that Americans United was founded in 1947. Pretty much everything else they say is a lie, a half-truth or an inflammatory distortion. This is not surprising, as the Liberty Institute has a habit of stretching the truth.
The group says that AU has “worked to ban ‘God’ from graduation speeches, shut down the activity of prison ministries, outlaw school vouchers allowing parents to send children to religious schools, and tear down veterans memorials. They also constantly lobby Congress and threaten religious activity in local communities.”
We’ll take these one at a time.
Americans United has not “worked to ban ‘God’ from graduation speeches” – although we have opposed school-sponsored prayer and proselytizing during these events.
We did successfully shut down an evangelical Christian prison ministry in Iowa because it was tax funded and gave special perks to inmates who were willing to live in a fundamentalist environment. A federal court put a stop to that.
AU does oppose school vouchers, arguing that the people who believe in the mission of sectarian schools should pay for propagation of religion, not the taxpayer at large.
We don’t tear down veterans memorials – we just sue when ones are erected that are festooned with Christian symbols. That doesn’t honor all of our veterans.
We do lobby in Congress, but it’s not “constant.” As a non-profit, there are limits on the amount of lobbying Americans United can do.
As for AU “threaten[ing] religious activity in local communities,” no way! If it’s voluntary, we say have at it. But government can’t sponsor purely religious activities. We will fight that every time.
Liberty Institute asserts that it defeated AU in a case concerning graduation prayer and that it fought us in a battle over a veterans’ memorial that contained Christian symbols in King. N.C. Again, the group fails to tell the whole story.
On the graduation prayer matter, I believe the group is referring to a legal fight that took place in Castroville, Texas, in 2012. That case was settled out of court – on terms favorable to Americans United.
As for King, N.C., that case was also settled out of court – again on terms that gave AU what we and our client sought. The sectarian war memorial and other Christian symbols were removed; they have been replaced by a secular monument. (By the way, Liberty Institute played a modest role in that lawsuit. The group sought to intervene on behalf of some veterans. The city’s defense was handled primarily by a private law firm and the Alliance Defending Freedom.)
I was also amused by the claim that Americans United is a threat to the “Christian faith.” That would come as a surprise to the Rev. Barry W. Lynn, the United Church of Christ minister who runs AU. Lynn got his master’s in theology from Boston University School of Theology, which isn’t exactly a correspondence school. (He has a law degree too, from Georgetown University Law Center.)
Americans United is no threat to the Christian faith – or any other faith. We support the right of people to worship, pray, read religious books, etc. in the way that is meaningful for them (and, of course, the right of people to be non-religious). What we do not support – and will never support – is for the government to decide it has a favorite religion; we’ll always stand against the promulgation of policies that force others to conform to someone else’s faith.
Our message is simple: Religion does best when it is paid for and promoted through private channels, not government ones. We’re upfront about that. We’re proud of our message.
When word spread around the office last week that Liberty Institute has issued this attack, there were plenty of smiles and high-fives. All of us are proud of what we do here. When we annoy the Religious Right this much, we take it as a sign that we’re doing something right.
All of you who help Americans United with dollars, activism or moral support should feel happy too. Believe me, we are aware that you make it possible for AU to get on that list and to be a force that the Religious Right must contend with.
And we also know that Americans United members come in many different varieties. They include Christians, Jews, Hindus, Muslims, Buddhists, atheists, agnostics, Humanists, Wiccans, Pagans, people who are spiritual but not religious and many other beliefs and philosophies. We know that this diversity reflects the spirit of America and that it is the source of our strength.
Thank you for your support. We look forward to being on next year’s list.