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Every denomination needs one of these...

Barry Lynn and the Hypocrisy of Separation

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Americans United for the Separation of Church and State (AU) purports to be a non-sectarian, Lynn, is prominently featured on television news programs whenever issues of religion and government cross. Although Lynn prides himself as an independent arbiter of where the line between church and state meet, his silence on his own denomination’s encroachment on Jefferson’s wall of separation is not only hypocritical, it ultimately undermines his own mission.

Lynn and Americans United issue dozens of statements each year regarding church and state conflicts and, at times, go as far as go as far as challenging the issues in court. Last May, Lynn chastised a $150,000 appropriation the Maryland General Assembly granted for the National Baptist Congress of Christian Education (NBCCE) conference held in Baltimore. Lynn claimed the grant was “totally inappropriate and clearly unconstitutional.” He further stated that “religious groups should pass the collection plate to their own members, not the taxpayers.”

However, while Lynn was criticizing Maryland’s grant, his own denomination, the United Church of Christ (UCC), was busy securing a grant from the state of Connecticut for its convention (called a General Synod) which is being held later this month in Hartford. Lynn has been noticeably silent about the Connecticut grant even though it is clearly a greater offense to the Establishment Clause of the federal constitution than the Maryland grant.

The differences between the Maryland and Connecticut grants are dramatic. After a careful legal review, the Maryland Department of Budget & Management clearly distinguished secular events the grant could support from non-secular events the grant could not support. The non-secular events supported by the grant included additional transportation resources to help ease the strain that 50,000 convention attendees would put on public transportation services. Explicitly, access to the subsidized transportation services was not “restricted to members of a particular sect.”

In contrast to the Maryland grant, the Connecticut grant is being used exclusively to pay a $100,000 fee to the Hartford Civic Center for facilities to host the United Church of Christ General Synod which is clearly a secular event with worship services where the primary audience is UCC delegates and members.

Some have argued that the Connecticut grant serves the non-secular purpose of promoting economic development that the approximately 8,000 attendees to the UCC General Synod will bring to Hartford. Constitutionally speaking, the distinction is not dependent on the residual economic benefit that the aid could bring but on the religious effect of the aid.

The Maryland Department of Budget & Management defined the religious effect of their grant on similar court cases involving papal visits to Philadelphia and Washington D.C. In Gilfillan v. City of Philadelphia, the Third Circuit determined that aid for the building of a platform in a public park for a liturgical service rendered the religious effect of the aid “both plain and primary.” In contrast, O’Hair v. Andrus, the District of Columbia Circuit determined that the “provision of police, sanitation and related public services is a legitimate function of government and not an ‘establishment’ of religion.”

The distinction between the Connecticut grant and the Maryland grant couldn’t be clearer. In the Maryland case, the grant was used to help ease the burden on public transportation. In the Connecticut case, the grant is being used to defray the cost of the facilities to host a clearly secular event for the United Church of Christ.

When they were initially contacted last June about the Connecticut grant in light of Lynn’s public condemnation of the Maryland grant, Americans United promised that a complete investigation would be made. At a public church and state discussion forum in Columbus, Ohio last October, Lynn was asked specifically about the Americans United investigation. Lynn expressed concern about the grant but noted that further investigation was still needed.

Now, within a week of the UCC General Synod in Hartford and nearly a year after Americans United began their investigation, Lynn has yet to publicly disclose the results of his investigation into the grant that will benefit his own denomination.

Lynn is in a unique position on this issue. Part of his attraction as a public figure is his status as an ordained minister which he uses to legitimize his concern about the separation between church and state. However, if Lynn is incapable of addressing clear concerns that involve his own denomination, what credibility does he or American United have?
posted by UCCtruths, Tuesday, June 19, 2007


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