It's only a week away from Thanksgiving; the trees have all turned from green to vibrant shades of reds, yellows and browns and a crisp chill in the air puts me on pins and needles as I wait for the season's first snow. As we reach mid November, the end of the calendar year always sneaks up on me -- Christmas is right around the corner and that means it'll be New Year's Eve before we know it.
I just got back from New York City, where I spoke at an interesting event sponsored by our friends at the Center for Inquiry.
On Tuesday night, a three-person panel discussed the issue "Church and State in the Obama Era" at All Souls Church, a Unitarian-Universalist congregation. I wouldn't call this event a debate; it was more of a discussion of where we stand under Obama – as I put it (taking off from the title of an old Clint Eastwood Western), "The Good, the Bad and the Uncertain."
As you may recall, earlier this month, Americans United and allied groups urged Attorney General Eric Holder to revoke a Bush-era rule regarding "faith-based" funding for religious groups.
In 2007, the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) issued a legal memo providing a blanket right for religious organizations to discriminate in hiring staff, even if they receive federal funds.
The Wall Street Journal's editorial page takes a potshot at Americans United and Barry Lynn today.
That's not surprising. The Journal's news department is staffed by lots of skilled and professional reporters who have done some crackerjack reporting on the Religious Right over the years. Fortunately, there's a wall of separation between those folks and the editorial page staff.
The latter is, as the saying goes, to the right of Attila the Hun.
Is Americans United for Separation of Church and State "one of the most dangerous organizations in America"?
Mat Staver seems to think so.
Staver, dean of the late Jerry Falwell's Liberty University Law School and president of Liberty Counsel, went on a tiresome tirade about AU in today's edition of One News Now, the wacky Wildmon family's "news service."
What could have provoked Staver's ire?
When I was a kid, our church decided it would be nice to have a social hall.
It was a pretty ambitious goal. We were a medium-sized congregation serving mostly blue-collar families in an economically depressed area. But the people sitting in the pews believed in the project and gave extra to support it. Kids like me even chipped in nickels and dimes.
I guess it's a little impertinent for me to issue a report card for President Barack Obama on his performance during his first 100 days in office. I'm not his teacher, and he's not my student.
But what the heck? It's a free country and everyone else is doing it. So here goes.
I'm focusing on issues with church-state implications. Somebody else can tackle the other topics.
Should taxpayers be forced to subsidize social service programs that discriminate in hiring on religious grounds?
Most Americans would quickly and emphatically say, "No!" If taxpayers of all faiths (and none) are paying for a program, taxpayers of all faiths (and none) should be eligible to work there. Applicants should be judged on their qualifications, not their theological opinions.
Yet former President George W. Bush allowed exactly that kind of job bias in publicly funded programs run by faith-based agencies.
Lock up the children! The Rev. Wiley Drake is on the loose again.
I'm sure you remember Drake, the controversial California pastor and media hound. Drake, a Southern Baptist, is perhaps best known for waging an "imprecatory prayer" campaign against Americans United and its staff (including me by name – thanks, Wiley!).
President Barack Obama's reluctance to overturn a Bush-era executive order permitting religious bias in federally funded "faith-based" programs is not going unnoticed.
The Los Angeles Times was quick to blast the president's inaction in a Feb. 9 editorial cleverly headlined "Thou may not discriminate." The newspaper labeled Obama's decision not to revoke the order an "unpleasant" surprise and called for quick corrective action.