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“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” These sixteen words from the first amendment of the Constitution have guided the career of Reverend Barry Lynn. As head of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, he has spent the last 25 years helping define what this phrase means in our everyday lives. From prayer in public schools, to abortion, to same-sex marriage, he’s debated in courts of law and the court of public opinion. Now, Lynn reflects on the issues that have defined his career and those that continue to concern him.
- Barry Lynn Executive director, Americans United for Separation of Church and State
Read An Excerpt
MS. DIANE REHMThanks for joining us. I'm Diane Rehm. The title Reverend before Barry Lynn's name takes some by surprise. As head of Americans United For Separation of Church and State, Lynn is one of the country's leading secularists. For more than a quarter century, he's had a front row seat to battles over everything from abortion to public displays of the Ten Commandments to same-sex marriage.
MS. DIANE REHMNow, he's written a book reflecting on his experience. It's titled "God And Government: 25 Years Of Fighting For Equality, Secularism and Freedom of Conscience." Barry Lynn joins me in the studio. I invite you to be part of the program. As always, you can call us, 800-433-8850. Send an email to email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook or send us a tweet. Barry Lynn, it's always good to see you.
REV. BARRY LYNNIt is terrific to be here, Diane.
REHMThank you. I must say, religion again in the news among these Republicans. Donald Trump talking about Ben Carson being a Seventh Day Adventist and he, Trump, says, I've never heard of them. I am a Presbyterian, he said. What does that have to do with the qualifications of one running for president and isn't that the whole point of that constitutional amendment?
LYNNAbsolutely. The Constitution now, before there was a Bill of Rights, there was article 6, no religious test for public office. And that meant you could vote as a voter for anybody based on anything, but you couldn't and shouldn't as a matter of policy vote or people based on their religious belief or lack of religious belief. But over the last few election cycles in particular, religion has become the single most important thing that's the undercurrent to what's going on.
LYNNAnd it's been an undercurrent in the debates four years ago and it is now. Now, we've got four people, at least, who think God told them they'd be the next president. Ben Carson said he felt the fingers of God. He didn't get more specific about that. The fingers of God when he decided to run. John Kasich was on "Meet The Press" in April. When asked, when are you going to get into the race, he said, I'm waiting to see what the Lord wants me to do with the rest of my life.
LYNNNow he's running so presumably the Lord, he thinks at least, told him to run for president. Mrs. Santorum, Rick Santorum's wife, four years ago was told by God her husband would be the president and apparently there's been a delayed result here. And, of course, Ted Cruz's dad, a fundamentalist preacher, believes Ted will be the next president. So it's all over the place.
REHMAll right, Barry. But let me play devil's advocate. What's wrong with that?
LYNNWell, what's wrong with that -- I guess there's two things. If you want to talk about religion as a presidential candidate, you better know what you're talking about. This is not something, sadly, unique to Republicans. Howard Dean, of course, a well respected Vermont governor who looked like he might be the Democratic nominee some time ago, was asked what his favorite book in the New Testament was and he said, Job.
LYNNAnd when the interviewer said, well, I think Job is in the Old Testament, he said, well, any one of the Gospels, which is similar to what Donald Trump actually said. Trump said his second favorite book was his own, but then his first favorite book, of course, was The Bible. When asked what his favorite passage was, he said, well, that's too personal.
LYNNI can't really get into that. So the questioner said, well, how about the Old Testament or the New Testament, which is your favorite? And Donald says, they're both equal. So this is the kind of thing that happens. If you start to talk about The Bible being your favorite book, then you better expect to have a few follow-on questions. And if you don't know the answers or you give really stupid answers, that's going to count. It should count against you.
REHMBut why is leaving belief in God or feeling the Word of God coming through to one, what's wrong with that for a presidential candidate?
LYNNYeah, I think presidential candidates have ways that they can honestly explain that they are religious people. They can say it. There's nothing that stops them from saying it. It's this pandering based on their religious belief. And we do know that in the Iowa caucuses, for example, there's a huge and well organized evangelical vote with literally preachers on the ground, sometimes within the law, sometimes outside the law, organizing people to vote.
LYNNRick Santorum, who is a heavy favorite of the so-called religious right in the last go-round, won not that night, but it was determined that he eventually won the Iowa caucus and I think all these Republican candidates understand how important it is to go after that vote. These are people who not only say, I support evangelical candidates, but who say I'm going to come and vote and they do vote in extraordinarily high percentages.
REHMYou, yourself, are an ordained minister within the United Church of Christ and yet, you have become one of the champions for those who are secularists. Now, explain to me how you got there.
LYNNI think, you know, secularism means two things. It can mean that you literally believe there's no god. They're the atheistic seculars or they're theistic seculars like myself and a huge number of other people who simply want the government to make no position, take no stance on any matters of religion. Now, that's well outside the purview of government.
LYNNMy conservative friends who don't like government to do anything, except they do love when government blesses their religion or funds their religion. It's so hypocritical and of the 25 years that I describe in the book, the thing that makes me the saddest is just how hypocritical it is to say you believe in limited government unless the government is going to tell you about when life begins, when natural death occurs and pretty much wants to regulate every minute in between those things.
LYNNThat is what's so wrong with the religious right and, frankly, these days, the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church.
REHMSo the Roman Catholic Church seems to be lead now by Pope Francis who is getting some pushback from his cardinals on trying to open up the church and make it a little more accepting. I mean, and you see a lot of pushback going on there.
LYNNI think there's an enormous amount of pushback from, again, the hierarchy of the church, not from the average Catholic who goes to church here or around the country. But I do think that when you look at the Democrats who loved so much, as many of us did, about what he said when he spoke to Congress, but you have to be careful. If he is an expert on climate change, then why isn't he an expert on the medical consequences of abortion? Why don't we assume then that he's an expert on everything?
LYNNWhen people ask me to give a sermon and I often will say, do I have to speak about separation of church and state? And they go, well, why wouldn't you? And I say, because you expect me to say, oh, in Matthew, remember Jesus says go into the closet and pray. Do not pray in public like the hypocrite. I don't want to proof text separation of church and state from my Holy Scripture. I prefer to proof text it from the Constitution itself, from the intention -- to the extent that we can figure it out, the intention of the framers of this marvelous 200-plus-year-old document.
REHMTell me why you chose to be ordained as a minister in the United Church of Christ?
LYNNI chose this ordination. It's very important to me and it's chosen because I felt at the time that I was looking for a life work, that the most important thing that was being done was being done by the church, raising moral objections to segregated schools, raising opposition to the Vietnam War, not necessarily because you could proof text it from The Bible, but because this was the moral message that the church was promoting.
LYNNAnd in my judgment, it was a much more powerful way to do it than what lawyers were doing outside of the National Lawyers Guild and some ACLU chapters in the last '60s, this was something that was being lead by powerful voices within the church and that's what attracted me to this whole idea.
REHMAnd then, once you were ordained, then did your work begin on separating church and state?
LYNNIt did. I spent some time spending a lot of time working on conscientious objection to the Vietnam War. And that's what real conscience is. Real conscience is when you say, you know, I cannot do this and I will take the consequences of what it is that I will not do. So some people go to Canada. Some people go to jail. This is not the claims of conscience being made by people like Kim Davis, the judge in Kentucky who will not sign marriage licenses and now has taken the position she will not even allow the country marriage licenses for same-sex couples to contain her printed name on it.
LYNNTo me, Kim Davis is not Martin Luther King. She's not Dredd-Scott. She's not Rosa Parks. She's just a woman who will not give up her $80,000 a year job in order to obey the law and accept the responsibilities for what she said she would do.
REHMSo you see that as a perfect example of where church and state should be separate.
LYNNThey should be separate. And people who are running for office need to understand that if they can't do the job they were elected to do because of her religious objection, they should probably be looking for another job somewhere.
REHMThe Reverend Barry Lynn, his new book is titled "God And Government: 25 Years Of Fighting For Equality, Secularism and Freedom of Conscience. Short break here, your calls, comments are welcome.
REHMAnd welcome back. Barry Lynn is with me. He is an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ. He has spent his career arguing for that clause in our Constitution's First Amendment, which says Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof. Now explain to us exactly what that means in terms of how one separates government from religion.
LYNNAll right, let's -- I'm going to try this because of course we've been trying to figure out what those words meant for over 200 years.
LYNNAnd the Supreme Court sometimes gets it right and sometimes doesn't. I think in America, everybody has a right to believe anything they want about matters of faith, religion, purpose to the universe, but that's not saying too much because of course you can believe that in communist China, you can believe anything in theory until you try to put it in practice. My view is when you try to put it in practice in the United States, you have to be very careful that you're not running against the interest of third parties. This is why things like the Hobby Lobby decision were so catastrophic.
LYNNIt allowed one entity, one corporate entity, to make moral decisions for all of its women employees, taking away their right to make their own moral choice when it came to what, if any, contraceptives to use. The other thing is you have to do anything religion on your own private time. You have to dig deeper into the pockets of the people in your parish, the people who believe as you believe and not expect that the government will come and bail you out.
LYNNIt's a little bit like talking earlier about my conservative friends, of whom I actually have a lot, who say we shouldn't pick winners and losers, meaning we shouldn't bail out this car company, we shouldn't bail out -- notwithstanding that, we shouldn’t bail out religious groups, either. If a religious group in an urban area, for example, can't attract enough students to come to those schools and enough money from their own parishioners to support those schools, I don't think we ought to be going to government through school vouchers, tuition tax credits or any of these other mechanisms to bail out the failing private, religious schools, not in the District of Columbia, not in Cleveland, Ohio, not anywhere in the United States.
REHMAnd you see that happening right now?
LYNNIt's happening right now. John Boehner, who is soon going to be leaving the speakership, but he was -- he used to cry. It's okay for men to cry, but they just have to be really sure they're crying about the right things. He would weep about the fact that the District of Columbia voucher program was being criticized by some even in his own Republican Party. This is not what you do to improve education for every child in America. If you believe, as I do, that there's a guarantee that every child in this country should have availability of a first-class public school education, then you can't mess around with all these substitutes like school vouchers, tuition tax credits and all the other infinite number of non-starter issues that float around.
REHMBut how does that get into the question of religious belief and having religion spill over into the public realm?
LYNNYeah, I think most of the private schools that get funded through these school voucher systems, for example, are deeply religious. If you go and interview the principals, if you depose them in legal cases, and you say what's the, you know, the single most important purpose of your school, and the principal always says it's to communicate the faith.
LYNNThat's important, that's good, that's why we allow them to exist, and the Constitution does permit private schools to exist, including religious ones, but it shouldn't allow school vouchers to become the substitute funding mechanism for the decisions made by, and the funding of, those schools by private parties.
REHMDid you become a lawyer before you became a minister or vice versa?
LYNNNo, it was actually vice versa. It was -- I did go to night law school at Georgetown University when I discovered that sometimes people can use a little spiritual assistance, sometimes they can use very practical experience, and I thought maybe if I went to law school I'd have a good mix of both. I like to say that being a minister and a lawyer, I could forgive someone this afternoon but still file a class action lawsuit against them in the morning.
REHMAll right, you have taken on many, many issues, but I must say I was struck, on June 11, 2014, when Congressman Louie Gohmert, a Republican of Texas, repeatedly confronted you on church-state issues. Let's hear a tiny bit of that.
REPRESENTATIVE LOUIE GOHMERTI'm curious, in your Christian beliefs, do you believe in sharing the good news that will keep people from going to hell consistent with the Christian beliefs?
LYNNI wouldn't agree with your construction of what hell is like or why one gets there, but the broader question is yes, I'm happy to. When I speak to...
GOHMERTOkay, so you don't believe somebody would go to hell if they do not believe Jesus is the way, the truth, the life?
LYNNI personally believe people go to hell because they don't believe in a specific set of ideas in Christianity. I have never...
GOHMERTNo, no, no, not a set of ideas. Either you believe as a Christian that Jesus is the way, the truth, the life, or you don't. And there's nothing wrong in our country with that.
LYNNIt was astonishing, even for me, to have this occur on the taxpayers' dime at a hearing in the Judiciary Committee on the subject...
REHMWhat was the hearing on?
LYNNIt was the state of religious freedom in America was the topic, and this was kind of version two of it. They'd had one a couple years earlier. But Louie Gohmert starts to talk about this. I thought at first he was referring to a speech I'd given to the American Atheist Convention a few months earlier, but it turned out he a very specific agenda. If you don't believe that the only way to heaven is through Jesus Christ, you're going to hell.
LYNNAnd of course sitting on that panel at the time that he was making these statements were at least two Jewish members and one member from Georgia who was actually a Buddhist. So I can only imagine what was going through their heads as their colleague, Louie Gohmert, decided they were going to hell no matter what they did or thought because they didn't accept Jesus Christ.
REHMBut Barry, how different is what happened last year with Louie Gohmert from the way it was, say, 25 years ago?
LYNNWell, there's a lot -- this is not a doom-and-gloom book, "God and Government." I mean, there's a lot that I think when you look at a book like this, and I tried to look back over the last quarter-century, there are some issues that kind of have no legs anymore. School prayer, for example, you don't see this being litigated much anymore. Ronald Reagan tried to pass a school prayer amendment. That failed in part because even the most conservative senators of his day, like Barry Goldwater, said how can we possibly come up with one prayer that's going to satisfy everyone. It can't even satisfy every Native American group in the state of Arizona.
LYNNThen when Newt Gingrich got to be speaker of the House, he made a huge push for this. That also failed. And although this gets applause lines, as I do, and I describe a lot of them in the book when I go these right-wing conventions, and somebody says we'll bring prayer back to the public schools, and people will applaud, but there's no push behind it. There's nothing that's going to happen. Creationism also pretty much off the table not because everyone accepts the evidence for evolution but because there's just no reason to litigate these things again because they've lost time and time and time again, including most recently in Dover, Pennsylvania, where Americans United and the ACLU of Pennsylvania and the Pepper Hamilton law firm, said, you know, you can't allow a church to donate books about so-called intelligent design to the school library and then have the students go read it as an adjunct to being taught evolution in their biology class.
LYNNIt was a resounding decision, written by Judge John Jones, who was appointed by George Bush at the behest of Senator Rick Santorum, a man who, shall we say, does not accept the evidence for evolution.
REHMBut isn't evolution still under fire in some parts of the country?
LYNNNo, it certainly is, but Bobby Jindal, who is certainly a very conservative governor in Louisiana, has had the capacity to urge local school districts to add some supplemental material in regard to evolution to the school curriculum. And neither we nor the ACLU of Louisiana, we've agreed we're going to litigate if this ever happens. Five, six years have gone by. We can't find a single school that's actually doing it. So they're worried. Louisiana's lost twice in taking these creative, shall we say, approaches to evolution all the way to the Supreme Court.
REHMWhat are you litigating right now?
LYNNI think the most important thing we're doing now, it's the follow-up to Hobby Lobby. These are organizations, including huge ones like Notre Dame. Americans United is the only organization that actually represents a real person, a real human being who is being mistreated in a significant way by the failure of Notre Dame to provide health insurance coverage for contraceptives.
LYNNNow health insurance for contraceptives is not required of these religiously associated colleges, universities, hospitals. All they have to do is to sign a statement, it's about 700 words long, and it just says we cannot in good conscience cover contraceptives in our insurance plan. This, then, permits, indeed requires, the federal government to come in and say we'll find a third party to do it, and the insurance companies are happy to do that, free to all the students.
LYNNThey will not sign the paper. They say it violates our freedom of belief, our core religious liberty, to assert that we don't believe that this is morally acceptable. Now this is staggeringly bizarre to me. How can a person who deeply believes a matter -- as a matter of conscience that she or he can't do something not sign a statement that says, you know I can't do this. So far, and I expect the United States Supreme Court within a few weeks will take one of these cases, I hope they take the Notre Dame case, but there are other similar cases floating around, and we've been a party in some way to all of them. So those are big, big deals.
REHMAll right, let's go to the phones, 800-433-8850. First to Max in Durham, North Carolina. You're on the air.
MAXHello, thank you for calming discussing this important topic. I think the founders were very wisely and clearly dismissing religion from being a part of the government, and what concerns me about the new bunch of fundamentalist Christians that are trying to force it back in, something that was intentionally left out of the Constitution, is I don't really see a big difference between fundamentalist Christian politicians imposing their particular belief pattern on us, that that's any different than the Taliban or ISIS imposing their particular interpretation of their faith on people that don't want it. So I just think it's a very slippery slope that we're on.
LYNNMax, I think it is a slippery slope. On the other hand, of course the other side, the Christian fundamentalists say, well, wait a minute, we don't chop people's heads off, as if that's the distinction that ought to make a difference. But when you spend 25 years talking to people mainly in religious minorities and people who are non-believers in any traditional sense, they don't feel that they -- they feel that they can articulate in detail how painful it has been to be treated like a second-class citizen.
REHMAnd you're listening to the Diane Rehm Show. I must say, in that first Republican debate, Barry Lynn, Megyn Kelly of Fox News asked the candidates about their belief in God. I mean, from everybody's perspective, do you think that was an appropriate question?
LYNNWell, I think it was an appropriate question, arguably, but not an appropriate answer given by any of them. The two kinds of answers I really like to a question like that, one would be to go back to what Jack Kennedy did in 1960 when people were worried, is he going to take instruction from the -- you know, from the Holy Father in Rome, he went down to Houston, Texas, to speak to a bunch of Protestant ministers during the last month or so of the campaign, and he said, I believe in an America where the separation of church and state is absolutely.
LYNNI have that on a T-shirt, sometimes walk around places, and I cover up who said it, and people go, who said that, and I go, John Kennedy said that, and they, no, and then I show, no, there's the line, it says John Kennedy, and it has the date.
REHMOf course, of course.
LYNNThe other good answer was Bill Bradley's, Bill Bradley when he was running for the Senate and then when he ran for the presidency, said, you know, I understand people might be interested in this, but I don't talk about religion in the middle of a political campaign. Either of those are great answers. Unfortunately, we haven't had any great answers this time around.
REHMTo Detroit, Michigan, Tim, you're on the air.
TIMHi. I'm just -- I'm just a little confused. I grew up in Chicago, very parochial, Irish Catholic neighborhood. Things were good back in the '60s and '70s. We watched "The Partridge Family," all that. Now our inalienable rights in our government papers are given to us by our creator. We have on our dollar bills in God we trust, in our government buildings the 10 Commandments. I'm confused here.
LYNNTim, it's Barry. I don't know why you're confused except maybe there's a little bit of history here. In God we trust did not appear on our coins or paper money until after the Civil War. Then we minted the two-cent piece, no longer around, the but the two-cent piece, and included the phrase in God we trust. In the '50s, in order to distinguish ourselves from those godless atheist communists in the Soviet Union, we did a lot of things. We added in God we trust to every bill, to every coin, and added it to the Pledge of Allegiance, written in the late 1800s by a Baptist minister specifically without including any reference to God because he thought that would be divisive.
REHMAnd what about his saying you've got the 10 Commandments on various buildings?
LYNNYeah, well, we do, and of course there's been a huge amount of litigation. We've been involved in a lot of it, trying to stop people from putting the 10 Commandments up in government buildings. We had a long, long fight with Chief Justice Roy Moore in the Alabama Supreme Court, take a two-and-a-half-ton granite monument out of the judicial center. He refused to do it. He had two theories about why, including that the Constitution's 10th Amendment permitted the states to disobey federal judicial decisions about the Constitution. It's a bizarre theory.
LYNNWe hadn't had to confront him again until he had the representation of six same-sex couples in Alabama. And even though the federal court said, you know, you have to let these folks get their marriage licenses, Judge Moore said no, so we had to sue him again. Barry Lynn, his new book is titled "God and Government." We'll take a short break here. When we come back, more of your calls, your email. I look forward to hearing from you.
REHMAnd we're back. And we've got many emails and comments. Here's the first from Lawrence. He says, "Your guest appears to me to be a secular bigot. The Constitution guarantees freedom of religion, not freedom from religion. He seems to pick and choose and on which topics church leaders may speak. School vouchers allow individuals to provide the best education for their children. His anti-Catholic statements sound like a member of the no-nothing party."
REHMI'm sure you've heard many comments like that before.
LYNNI have. That's one of the more polite ones. But no, there's no bigotry here. I believe that George Washington was right when he said this is a country that was founded so that there would be to bigotry no sanction. I don't think governments ought to be in the position of granting bigoted funding or bigoted anything on the basis of religion. And I don't think that secularism, which simply means government neutrality about matters of religion, there's nothing bigoted about it.
LYNNAnd I don't consider myself a bigot, sir. And I don't consider myself an anti-Catholic either. I do think, though, that there are profound things that are going on in this country, led often by the so-called religious right, sometimes with the help of the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church, that simply should not happen in this century in this country.
REHMAnd a tweet from Gina, who says, "What about taxing the churches? Some say this would give them too much power, but I think they have too much money."
LYNNWell, they certainly have a lot of money. One of the things that we're trying to do before we get to the question of overall taxation, there are laws in place about what tax exempt organizations, including mine and including every church, can do and can't do. One thing -- the only thing you absolutely can't do is endorse or oppose candidates for public office. That's the only thing you can't do.
LYNNWe have filed hundreds and hundreds of complaints over the last decade with the Internal Revenue Service about deliberate efforts by churches to introduce their views into the political process. Not about the issues, but about candidates. I mean, these are not closed questions. These are -- a minister stands up and says Election Day is next Tuesday. If you're having trouble finding a way to get to the polling place, just come to the church parking lot and we'll put you on a bus.
LYNNAnd you come onto the bus and the guy who's driving the bus says, who you gonna vote for? And if you give the wrong answer, in that specific case any Democrat, you didn't get put on the bus.
REHMAll right. Let's go to Berlin, Md. Marsha, you're on the air.
MARSHAHi. I just wanted to applaud your speaker. I -- Diane, I love you. I listen to you every day.
MARSHABut I'm so happy that someone has finally stepped up to say we need this separation of church and state. I don't feel that a government should be making any policies, in the position to mandate or pandate or pander to any religious groups, regardless of their popularity. I am now a Buddhist. I've been one for 28 years. In my own neighborhood I have been ostracized because I am not of their religious state, as the majority of them are Catholic here.
MARSHAAnd so it's always bothered me. I've always spoken out about it. And I just wanted to say thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you for writing the book, for coming out and speaking. I wish I had known about you sooner because I would have quoted you on my Facebook pages.
LYNNThank you. Thanks, Marsha, I appreciate that. It's good -- you know, one of the things I discover going through all the material to put this book together is I've had an exciting life doing this for the last 25 years. They're wonderful people, they're wonderful people who just need a little bit of information, a little bit of help in order to be willing to challenge the kind of the bigotry that Marsha's been facing out there in Berlin.
REHMAnd to Reston, Va. Sloan, you're on the air.
SLOANThank you so much, Diane. And I just wanted to say I really appreciate the work of Rev. Lynn. I wanted to say, first of all, I'm a gay man. I've been together with my husband for the last 21 years. We got married four years ago. And I just wanted to say as a supporter of both equal rights and religious liberty for all Americans, I think we need to do a better job of helping to demonstrate to folks that those two values go together. You can be for equal rights and for religious liberty.
SLOANAnd when it comes to cases like, you know, Kim Davis, you know, there are religious liberty interests at stake. For the people that want to go down to that courthouse and married, what about their religious liberty? So I would never want to impinge on the religious liberty rights of others and I would just hope that folks on the other side of the question would get to a point where they, too, would like to not intrude on my religious liberty rights. All Americans should have full religious liberty and full equal rights under the law. And I appreciate the work that you do, Rev. Lynn. And I so love your show, Diane.
LYNNThanks. And congratulations, Sloan, in your long relationship and your, finally, the right to marry. There are legitimate issues. One of the things that's so disturbing is when I have debates with members of the so-called religious right, they are willing to say anything in order to win. They are willing to say, for example, that if you don't support Kim Davis, then you must be in favor of the government forcing the church to require people to marry other people.
LYNNNow, you know, I'm a minister. I'm get asked to do a lot of weddings. Sometimes I say yes, sometimes I say no. I don't have to give a reason. And I, of course, would be happy to same-sex weddings. But my problem is I have certain standards. Like, I want people to meet with me a couple times. I want to make sure that they have some general understanding of what's gonna happen on this important day in their lives.
LYNNSo I can say -- now, Rabbis, in many instances, will not conduct weddings for -- between a Jewish person and Christian person. No government is going to ever force them to do that. That's a legitimate religious liberty claim. The bogus ones are, as Sloan points out, when you -- like a Kim Davis clerk -- decide you're not going to do something which is in the religious interests of the very people who are asking you to do it.
REHMHere's a tweet from Elizabeth, who says, "I still haven't heard Rev. Lynn describe what proper freedom of religious expression looks or sounds like to him."
LYNNHum. I think what it is is you can believe anything you want. You can say anything you want. You can -- including saying very derogatory things about people who don't share your religious beliefs or your lack of religious beliefs. You can even conduct yourself in -- as an individual or in a group, in your church, your community, your temple, your mosque, your humanist association in any way you want, unless you violate the rights -- legitimate rights of a third party.
REHMAll right. And to Greenville, S.C. Joey, you're on the air.
JOEYHi. Rev. Lynn, I kindly want to confront this notion of neutrality in the public square. Because it seems -- to acquire a compromise from every belief system but secular humanism. And I want to also give you a quote from Stephen L. Carter, a Yale professor of law.
JOEYHe says, "Efforts to craft a public square from which religious conversation is absent, no matter how thoughtfully worked out, will always, in the end, say to those of organized religion that they alone, unlike everyone else, must enter the public dialogue only after leaving behind that part of themselves that they must -- that they consider the most vital."
LYNNI do know Professor Carter. And I like him. And I do have some disagreements with him. And maybe this is part of it. I don't think that anyone is suggesting that if there's a legitimate reason for coming up with a religious question -- for example, how can you teach English to the extent that we teach literature in English classes anymore, and not mention that William Faulkner, of course, used all these biblical references?
LYNNSo rather than have, for example, a class on the Bible taught in a public school, I'd much -- I'd be much happier -- and many schools do this -- when something naturally comes up in a curriculum about religion and it's confluence in history or literature, mention it then. Let's not have a whole class about it.
REHMHere's an email from Sean in Baltimore. "Please ask how Ben Carson can get away with saying he does not think a Muslim should be president and still enforce separation of church and state, as mandated by the Constitution."
LYNNYou know, it's -- it remains to be seen, I guess, whether Ben Carson gets away with it. But he certainly was heavily critiqued by people across the political and religious spectrum when he suggested that a Muslim was not somehow fit for public office because of his religion. That should never be a test. That's exactly what the no-religious test for public office was designed to achieve.
REHMAnd to Smithville, N.C. Darrell, you're on the air.
DARRELLHey, Diane. How are you doing?
DARRELLHey, the only comment I've got is if your guest here, you know, says he's a Christian, I mean, I'm not gonna guess -- second guess anybody's salvation, but if you can't in a public square and affirm that John 14:6, then, man, that's one of the basic tenants of being a Christian, is believing that Jesus is the way to truth of life and only way to God. But that's my comment. Thank you.
LYNNYeah, well, I mean, Darrell, I understand that. And I think that, you know, one can have any kind of religious beliefs you want. It's -- my problem is when the government decides it's going to try to impose those beliefs on everyone in the country, whether they like it or not.
REHMAnd here's an email from Brian, who says, "Can you give any insight into candidates standing up for Kim Davis when if she had imposed Sharia law or even Old Testament law, let's say not issuing restaurant licenses if they serve shrimp or cheeseburgers, that the same candidates would scream bloody murder for violating the rights of Christians."
LYNNYes, they certainly would. That would happen. We try to be equal opportunity folks at Americans United, so that when, for example, some California schools decided to, as a homework assignment, assign the memorization of prayers from the Koran to their public school students and it was a deathly silence, but Americans United, I'm proud to say, both in California and here nationally said, you know, you can't do this. You can't take a Holy Scripture of any kind, including the Koran, and ask people to memorize the religious text. That's not appropriate for public schools.
REHMWhat about inserting religion when you're talking about life and death issues, like abortion or the death penalty?
LYNNYou know, I think one of the things about the abortion debate is that with rare exceptions, almost all of the opposition to women's reproductive choice is based on religious beliefs. This is ironic because the Bible never discusses abortion. Certainly it occurred. The only the single thing we know about it is that the penalty in Jewish law for an abortion or causing a miscarriage or however it's characterized, is different from the penalty for murder.
LYNNSo that's the only thing we know. When I asked my conservative friends, well, where does it say anything about abortion in the Bible? They go back, well, Jeremiah, it says I have known you as I formed you in the womb. That's poetry. That's not even theology, much less law.
REHMAnd you're listening to "The Diane Rehm Show." So where do we go from here, Barry Lynn? Are we a country moving more and more toward the integration of religion into our political life?
LYNNYou know, I hope not. I mean, I hope that if we integrate it, we integrate it in the best way and in not a way that makes anyone feel like a second-class citizen. I do think it's ironic that here, even in this constitutional law professor's administration of Barack Obama, we have some serious defects. We haven't found a way, for example, to straighten up the so-called faith-based initiative, started by George Bush. One of the things Barack Obama said as candidate was he would not allow funding of organizations to get government grants or contracts if they discriminated on a basis of religion.
LYNNEverybody -- most people, in fact, statistically, most people said, yeah, that's right, you shouldn't do this. About a year ago he signed an executive order prohibiting government grantees and government contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation. That, too, was good. But now we have the irony. If you are, for example, a lesbian Unitarian, you cannot be discriminated against -- this is the good part -- because you're a lesbian. You can, however, still be discriminated against by, say, a Baptist organization because a Unitarian.
LYNNNow, how does this make any sense? I -- people go, I can't believe that's true. A hundred and thirty organizations have written a letter to the president recently saying, please fix this. Take this policy of the George Bush years and get rid of it. So far no word, no action, no anything.
REHMWhy do you believe that is?
LYNNI think this president, frankly, is a little nervous about religion. He knows that even if people don't obsessively watch Fox News, they have suspicions about whether he is a religious person or not. And if he is religious, whether he's a secret Muslim or not. It's an extraordinarily high percentage of people. And I think he's very sensitive about that. I think this is one of the reasons he doesn't go after these churches that blatantly violate the law against no electioneering from the pulpit.
LYNNHe was burned by the so-called c4 controversy, Lois Lerner, who was the head of the exempt -- has pretty much been vindicated by an internal investigation now. But I think…
REHMAt the IRS.
LYNNYeah, at the IRS, but I think it still makes it difficult for him to say we want to go after those few churches, those few religious institutions that do blatantly violate the law. They tell you who to vote for and they do it loudly. They send it in newsletters. They tell you from the pulpit. They tell you who to vote for by sticking a flyer under your windshield wipers in the church parking lot. Those are clearly wrong. They're clearly illegal. And somebody really needs to get to the business of enforcing them.
REHMWell, and clearly you will continue the work that you have been doing for the past 25 years. Barry Lynn's new book is titled, "God and Government: 25 Years of Fighting for Equality, Secularism and Freedom of Conscious." Thanks for being here.
LYNNThank you, Diane.
REHMAnd thanks, all, for listening. I'm Diane Rehm.
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