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Showing posts with label Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Show all posts

Friday, May 29, 2009

Group Urges IRS Review of Liberty Tax Exemption

From OneNewsNow

The group Americans United for Separation of Church and State wants the Internal Revenue Service to review Liberty University's tax-exempt status because the Christian school revoked its recognition of a student-run Democratic club.

Americans United made the request in a letter to the IRS, arguing that Liberty's recognition of a Republican club offers GOP candidates support that is not available to Democratic candidates.

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Thursday, March 19, 2009

Shackles Follow Shekels

From The Asbury Park Press
ByCharles C. Haynes

When President Barack Obama launched his faith-based initiative at the National Prayer Breakfast last month, he promised not only to sustain the Bush administration's signature domestic program — but to expand it.

For religious groups, this means continued access to billions of federal dollars for a wide range of social services — from homeless shelters to drug rehabilitation programs — run by houses of worship across the nation.

Critics of the Bush faith-based initiative have long charged that tax money has flowed to religious groups without sufficient constitutional safeguards against such practices as religious discrimination in hiring and proselytizing in government-funded programs.

In announcing his version of the program, Obama pledged not to blur "the line our founders wisely drew between church and state." But it remains to be seen exactly where this president intends to draw that line.

Many religious and political conservatives are pressuring the new administration not to place limits on preaching or hiring, arguing that religious groups must be free to carry out their mission in ways authentic to their faith. Meanwhile, many civil libertarians are warning of more political and legal fallout if the proselytizing and employment issues aren't addressed.

Just this month, Americans United for Separation of Church and State and the American Civil Liberties Union asked a federal appeals court to allow taxpayers to challenge public funding of a Baptist child care agency in Kentucky that Americans United alleges "proselytizes youngsters in its care and discriminates against gay employees who do not share its belief that homosexuality is sinful."

However Obama resolves this debate — and the betting is that he will side with civil rights groups and church-state watchdogs — houses of worship should think twice about the wisdom of getting into bed with the government in the first place.

During the Bush era, I asked an evangelical leader if he thought sending tax money to religious groups for social services was constitutional. He said yes — but he still advises congregations not to take the money. The government, he said, is like a python: Once you are entangled, you get the life squeezed out of you.

Lest we forget, the establishment clause of the First Amendment is intended not only to prevent religious control of government, but also government control of religion. State-imposed regulations and conditions inevitably dilute the faith in faith-based programs. As they say in Washington, with shekels come shackles.

Government money also threatens religious autonomy and freedom. Under the First Amendment, religious groups in America have always relied on the voluntary support of adherents to advance their mission. As a consequence, faith groups have been free to speak truth to power without fear of state reprisal. But reliance on government support would surely muffle that prophetic voice.

In stark contrast to the moribund, tax-supported churches in Western Europe, thousands of American faith communities thrive in the marketplace of religious competition. Separating church from state is very good for religion and essential for full religious liberty.

Of course, the temptation is to take the money — especially at a time when so many people are in such dire need of help. But when government funding compromises the faith mission, undermines religious independence and creates dependency on government, it is too high a price to pay.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Confronting the Culture in New Jersey Schools

Having lived in New Jersey for ten years, I can attest that it is an extraordinary, paradoxical place. It would appear, based on its recent governors, those it elects to the state legislature, and church leadership, to have embraced the culture of death, political and ecclesiastical corruption, big government socialism, and all the evil and depravity of popular culture. Yet among all this, is an extraordinary network of orthodox Roman Catholics, Evangelical Protestants and Orthodox Jews who work closely together and heroically stand up to fierce opposition with a counter-cultural message affirming life, traditional marriage, family values, and the right of parents to seek out the schools that can best serve their children, regardless of who happens to manage them. New Jersey, perhaps more than any other state, is the nation's front line in the culture war. Stories like the following from The Record remind Christians of St. Paul's words to the Romans: "where sin increased, grace abounded all the more ..."

A New Jersey Christian activist will mount an unusual effort this week to carry religion into the nation's public schools.

Rather than lobbying the government to require school prayer or battling against the teaching of evolution, Bob Pawson is asking students to bring Bibles to school for the week.

And he doesn't want Scripture sitting in lockers or backpacks.

Pawson, a conservative evangelical and Trenton public school teacher, said students should use relevant Bible passages to complete assignments and contribute to classroom discussions. His Scripture in Schools Project also calls on students to leave religious tracts at "strategic places throughout school," such as in library books, desks and lockers.

"The only people keeping Bibles out of America's public schools are us Christians!" Pawson wrote on his Web site, "Let's just bring them in. Millions of us. Tote 'em and quote 'em!"

Pawson has scheduled the project to coincide with a nationwide See You at the Pole event in which students will gather for prayer at their schools' flagpoles before classes begin. Organized by evangelicals, the annual gathering will take place Wednesday and is expected to attract several million participants nationwide.

However, it appears few North Jersey students will heed Pawson's call, despite his efforts to publicize the event through Christian media circles.

Pawson knew of just several local kids -- all members of Emmanuel Christian Fellowship in Hackensack -- planning to take their Bibles to school.

One student said he plans to read his holy book during study halls and avoid aggressively promoting his faith.

"My friends consider me a cool Christian, because I don't ram my faith down people's throats," said Adam Van Clief, a senior at North Bergen High School.

Another student said she, too, will take a low-key approach because she knows no other evangelicals at her school.

"It's going to be a little awkward, because I have a lot of friends who aren't Christian," said Angelica Camacho-Malone, a sophomore at North Arlington High School. "But I'm hoping I can just let them know about the Bible and show them that it isn't as boring as it may seem to them."

Meanwhile, Barry Lynn, the executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State said he had concerns about Pawson's plan, though he also noted that there's nothing unconstitutional about students bringing Bibles to school.

Lynn said he was disturbed that Pawson's Web site asks students to distribute tracts and suggests that pastors should go to schools with their Bibles and clerical garb.

"You can bring a Bible to school," Lynn said in an interview. "But this seems to be a case of pushing the envelope, and in some areas, he pushes it right off a cliff."

Pawson, who said he started the event a decade ago, said the purpose isn't to proselytize or convert students, but to share the wealth of literature, history and theology in the Bible.

Still, he said he relishes the idea of students quoting Genesis in science class to contest the theory of evolution -- which many evangelicals say contradicts the biblical account of creation.

"We aren't looking to spark controversy," Pawson said. "But if the class discussion is on how life started ... then a kid who believes in creation can back up his viewpoint."

Lynn, however, said there's a fine line between legitimate classroom discussion and theological indoctrination.

He said a lecture on the works of William Shakespeare -- which contain many biblical allusions -- would be an appropriate place to discuss Scripture.

But he said some conservative religious groups have begun training students to aggressively challenge science teachers on evolution.

"I think in those cases it's appropriate for the teacher to say, 'This is a science class; we are not discussing religion,' and tell the student to sit down," Lynn said. "Students don't get to rewrite the curriculum just because they feel like it."

The Hackensack church, meanwhile, kicked off both the Scripture in Schools Project and the See You at the Pole event with a rally Friday evening replete with Christian rock bands and sermons by the pastor.

Mandy Leverett, the youth pastor, said it's important for students to bring their faith to school, because it sets a good example for others.

"To introduce young people to the Lord, a lot of times it will detour them from getting into habits that are destructive," Leverett said.