Tuesday, May 20, 1997CE, is the start of a $2 million campaign by the "Christian" Coalition to change the meaning of the First Amendment.
It begins with what they are calling a "religious freedom rally" at the U.S. Capitol. The campaign will include radio, direct mail, and telephone banks It will also include threats to legislators in the form of promises to record any votes against "religious freedom" in millions of Congressional scorecards and voting guides.
Leader of the effort is Rep. Ernest J. Istook, Jr. (R-OK). Dissension among Religious Right groups in the past four years has kept this attempt from becoming a serious threat, but now the Family Research Council, Concerned Women of America, American Center for Law and Justice, National Clergy Council, Americans for Voluntary School Prayer, Focus on the Family, David Barton, Southern Baptist Christian Life Commission, and others have joined forces.
That they represent a serious threat cannot be overlooked. Even though such a bill would require a two-thirds vote, the bill could succeed in the House, where a non-binding resolution supporting display of the Ten Commandments in government buildings sailed through in March, 295 to 125. The last vote in the Senate on a school prayer amendment was 1984, when it failed to reach 2/3 by 11 votes. However, the Senate at that time was less likely to be influenced by the Religious Right.
The Istook amendment to the Constitution would read: "To secure the people's right to acknowledge God according to the dictates of conscience: The people's right to pray and to recognize their religious beliefs, heritage or traditions on public property, including schools, shall not be infringed. The government shall not require any person to join in prayer or other religious activity, initiate or designate school prayers, discriminate against religion, or deny a benefit due to religion."
Having been fed the propaganda of the Religious Right, many people seriously believe that their religious heritage is under attack. They will support this amendment with a religious fervor, while the rest of us, who know better, will undoubtedly sit by and say "it can't happen here."
Those who have studied the issue agree with Rev. Barry Lynn of Americans United, who said, "In all of my years of working in Washington and monitoring the Religious Right, I have never seen an amendment as dangerous as this one. It amounts to a no-holds-barred attack on the separation of church and state."
The Coalition to Preserve Religious Liberty opposes the measure and its many organizations will go into action, but it will be necessary for individuals and organizations to provide support and voice their concerns. If you need information in more detail about the amendment, consult the May 1997 issue of "Church & State" magazine (in some libraries or obtain from Americans United.) You can also obtain background information on numerous church-state issues from them.
Some material on issues can be transmitted via e-mail by me. If anyone would keyboard the lengthy article in "Church & State" and send it to me, I would provide it to others upon request. Receiving information on the computer in this fashion facilitates its use in many ways. You can disseminate it further to people with whom you are in contact; you can extract salient points to use in letters to public officials and letters to editors. You can assist in countering the propaganda mill of the Religious Right by seeing that their claims put forth on hundreds of radio and TV stations do not go unchallenged.
You can provide e-mail addresses to expand this network. Please submit these in list format if you provide more than one. Send to firstname.lastname@example.org
To reach Americans United for Separation of Church and State, phone 202-466-3234, e-mail email@example.com or write to 1816 Jefferson Place NW, Washington, DC 20036. Their website is at: http://www.au.org
(There is also a website for Rochester Chapter: http://www.frontiernet.net/~ldecours/au)
Keep church and state separate and free. It's best for both.