Worshipping At The Wall?: AU And The 'Cult' Of Church-State Separation

Beware! If you are reading this, it might mean you're a member of a "cult" that seeks to tear down religion and destroy all that is good in America.

At least that's the view expressed in a recent letter to the editor in the conservative Washington Times newspaper. Letter writer David McGinley of McLean, Va., is entitled to his opinion, of course, but not his own set of facts. Unfortunately, his particulars go astray in more than a few places.

McGinley says AU's current executive director, Rev. Barry Lynn is a "founding member of the Cult of the 'separation of Church and State,'" a group that perceives any "encroachment of religion (actually Christianity) into public life [as] dangerous and must be exorcised, lest someone, somewhere, might take offense."

Lynn is certainly an advocate for church-state separation, but he didn't pioneer the policy. We have Roger Williams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and others to thank for that. Like those religious and political leaders, AU seeks to defend religious freedom by upholding the church-state wall. There's nothing anti-Christian about that.

McGinley writes, "The Cult's objective is not to do what is good but what is 'constitutional.'" Well, we believe the separation of church and state is "good" and constitutional. In fact, we think it's great and has served America exceptionally well. True, we may sometimes oppose what McGinley thinks is "good," but we are advocates of the law and the law requires that church and state be separate. As much as people may wish it so, what they perceive to be "good" or "right" is not always legal.

In one diatribe, Mr. McGinley misquotes the First Amendment as: "Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...." Actually, it's "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion; or prohibiting the free exercise there of...." Little words, big difference.

McGinley goes on: "[N]either Congress nor any actual establishment is needed to raise their ire." I'll give him that. AU believes that the First Amendment actually prohibits government, whether state, local or federal, from doing anything like "establishing" a religion. This includes endorsing religion and supporting sectarian endeavors. You bet we react when we see this fundamental principle violated. That's why we're here.

The letter touches on several other issues, too numerous to discuss here. McGinley's missive demonstrates that a healthy discussion about church-state separation is sorely needed. Feel free to add your two cents on our message boards.