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Anti-Religious Thuggery By: Joseph D'Hippolito
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, November 11, 2008


Jesus Christ condemned the religious authorities of His day by saying, "Woe unto ye hypocrites." Today, such words apply to Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, a leftist group that claims to zealously oppose the politicization of the church. In yet another election, the group has persecuted those whose pastoral ministry did not help the Democratic Party but defended those who advanced its aims.

Bishop Arthur Serratelli of Patterson, NJ, wrote a column  for his diocesan newspaper October 9 in which he implied that Obama’s support for pro-abortion legislation would destroy constitutionally protected freedom. On October 24, Americans United for the Separation of Church and State (AU) announced that it would petition the Internal Revenue Service to review the Diocese of Patterson’s tax-exempt status.

AU claims that Serratelli misused his position to endorse a specific candidate or political party; IRS rules prohibit tax-exempt religious institutions from making such endorsements.

Serratelli never mentioned Obama by name. Instead, Serratelli alluded to Obama’s public support for the Freedom of Choice Act, a bill that would prohibit any law limiting the availability of abortion – including laws that protect the consciences of individual health workers and allow for parental notification.

“While advocates trumpet this law as the triumph of the freedom of choice, they hide the dark reality that the law would actually inhibit choice,” Serratelli wrote before offering particulars:

“Laws protecting the rights of nurses, doctors and hospitals with moral objections to abortion would no longer stand. Health and safety regulations for abortion clinics would also vanish. Gone the freedom of health care professionals to be faithful to the Hippocratic Oath...Gone the freedom of conscience so essential for a civil society!

“Advocates of FOCA redefine a woman’s ‘health’ so as to expressly permit post-viability abortions. Thus, a child who survives an abortion can be left to die for the health of the mother. No politically correct word can mask this reality for what it is. This is infanticide. Gone the freedom for a baby, once born, to live!”

Serratelli did not allude to Obama until the final paragraphs:
Along with 108 members of Congress, the present democratic candidate for President continues his strong support for the Freedom of Choice Act. In a speech before the Planned Parenthood Action Fund last year, he made the promise that the first thing he would do as President would be to sign the Freedom of Choice Act. What a choice for a new president!

We choose our leaders who make our laws. Every vote counts. Today, either we choose to respect and protect life, especially the life of the child in the womb of the mother or we sanction the loss of our most basic freedoms. At this point, we are still free to choose! (Italics in original.)
Rev. Barry Lynn, president of AU, told USA Today that it was “impossible to interpret this passage as anything but a command to vote against ‘the present Democratic candidate’ because of his promise to sign a certain piece of legislation disfavored by the Catholic Church's hierarchy.”

Using the IRS as a weapon against politically active religious conservatives is standard operating procedure for AU. In June 2007, the group asked the IRS to investigate the Catholic bishop of Providence, R.I., Thomas Tobin, who criticized former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s views on abortion in the diocesan newspaper.

In March, AU asked the IRS to investigate Pastor Steve Riggle of Houston’s Grace Community Church, who endorsed Shelley Sekula Gibbs for a Congressional seat in a letter on personal letterhead. Dave Welsh, executive director of the Houston Area Pastor Council, defended Riggle in a separate letter to the IRS.

“Scripture, the U.S. Constitution and even IRS guidelines make it clear that a pastor does not give up his rights and duties as a citizen when he takes that position,” Welch said. “Barry Lynn knows that pastors may endorse candidates as individuals, that it is very obvious that the letter sent by Pastor Steve Riggle was not produced by or representing the church organization and that this complaint is a stereotypical act by Lynn of grandstanding and attempted intimidation."

Yet when it comes to his own denomination, the United Church of Christ (UCC), Lynn becomes silent.

Lynn and AU have never filed a complaint against Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ – where Rev. Jeremiah Wright once served as pastor and where Obama once worshipped – though Wright’s following comments during display a far more partisan tone than Serratelli’s:
It just came to me with in the last few weeks y’all why so many folk are hatin’ on Barack Obama. He doesn’t fit the model. He ain’t white, he ain’t rich, and he ain’t privileged. Hillary (Clinton) fits the mold. Europeans fit the mold. Giuliani fits the mold. Rich white men fit the mold…Hillary was not a black boy raised in a single parent home, Barack was. Barack knows what it means to be a black man livin’ in a country and a culture that is controlled by rich white people…Hillary has never had her people designed as non-persons.
When the UCC accepted $100,000 from the State of Connecticut to hold its annual synod in Hartford in June 2007, Lynn remained silent – despite the fact that, one year earlier, he and AU demanded that Maryland’s attorney general deny a $150,000 grant that the National Baptist Congress of Christian Education requested for its conference in Baltimore.

“This grant is totally inappropriate and clearly unconstitutional,” Lynn wrote on AU’s Web site. “Religious groups should pass the collection plate to their own members, not the taxpayers.”

But James Hutchins, who operates the UCCTruths website, wrote that the Maryland grant "clearly distinguished secular events the grant could support from non-secular events the grant could not support." The grant included increased resources for public transportation. The UCC used the all of Connectictut grant, however, to pay the Hartford Civic Center -- which would hold worship services for those attending the synod.

Obama, who announced his candidacy four months prior, spoke at that UCC synod. Not only did he express specific positions; he attributed those positions to his faith and UCC membership. Some excerpts:
So, doing the Lord's work is a thread that's run through our politics since the very beginning. And it puts the lie to the notion that the separation of church and state in America means faith should have no role in public life.

Yet what we also understand is that our values should express themselves not just through our churches or synagogues, temples or mosques; they should express themselves through our government.
“That's why I've been fighting to expand the Earned Income Tax Credit and the minimum wage.

I have made a solemn pledge that I will sign a universal health care bill into law by the end of my first term as president that will cover every American…

But we also know our conscience cannot rest so long as the war goes on in Iraq. It's a war I'm proud I opposed from the start – a war that should never have been authorized and never been waged. I have a plan that would have already begun redeploying our troops with the goal of bringing all our combat brigades home by March 31st of next year.
Moreover, campaign workers outside of the Hartford Civic Center set up tables featuring “Obama ‘08” signs and literature in plain view.

Yet Lynn -- the man who readily confronts religious conservatives over political activity -- wrote on AU's website that he found "no evidence that a violation of the federal tax law against church electioneering occurred,” before continuing:

“Event organizers took measures to ensure that Obama’s appearance did not take on the trappings of a campaign rally by asking attendees to refrain from bringing in ‘Obama for President’ signs and other paraphernalia.

“During his speech, Obama mentioned his presidential run. He shouldn’t have done so, and I am disappointed that he made the reference. But those remarks did not transform the event into a political endorsement. (Emphasis added.)

“What happened at the UCC gathering is a lot different than some of the cases AU has reported to the IRS in the past. In those instances, there was a clear intent to intervene in a partisan race.”
Hutchins exposed Lynn’s hypocrisy:
If Obama was speaking as a non-candidate (since he was invited over a year ago before he declared) then his reference to campaign pledges if elected to office clearly violates IRS standard for separation...If he was speaking as a candidate, IRS standards call for equal access by the other candidates for the same office…which didn’t appear to happen. In either case, his speeches…were a violation of IRS standards.

From the UCC perspective, there should be no confusion as they publicly advocate for the same rules on separation as AU. Furthermore, UCC leaders and conference ministers understood Obama’s status as a declared candidate for some time and…understood that Obama’s address would be a campaign speech. The UCC clearly and knowingly violated AU’s standard for separation. (Emphasis added.)
Lynn’s convenient standards represent a career dedicated to liberal activism. He worked with the American Civil Liberties Union from 1984 to 1991 as a legislative counsel specializing in church-state relations. During the 1970s, Lynn worked with the UCC to help Vietnam draft resisters receive amnesty.

Lynn also belongs to the national advisory board of Americans for Religious Liberty. His fellow advisors include Frances Kissling (founder of Catholics for a Free Choice, which supports abortion), Rev. James Lawson (a United Methodist minister who has called Christianity “the most violent religion in the world”) and former Attorney General Ramsey Clark (who acted as defense counsel for Slobodan Milosevic and Saddam Hussein).

Given Lynn’s ideological beliefs, associations, and hypocritical activism, it should be apparent that Americans United for the Separation of Church and State is nothing but a political hit squad.

Joseph D’Hippolito is a columnist for Frontpagemag.com, whose main focuses are religion and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.


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