By Jeremy Leaming
A well-worn Religious Right canard posits that the U.S. Constitution does not call for the separation of government and religion.
Public officials, including some in Congress and the current occupant of the White House, have peddled the Religious Right’s take on religious liberty to often disastrous results.
During his final State of the Union address Jan. 28, President George W. Bush pumped his so-called “faith-based” initiative and called for a new federal voucher scheme to aid religious schools. The day after, the president chided opponents of his religion-funding plan as inappropriately concerned about keeping “a clear separation” of government and religion.
Some politicians running to replace Bush have also revealed a troubling understanding of the genius of the American Constitution.
What gives? Is the notion of church-state separation as bogus as the Religious Right proclaims? Are religion and government not meant to operate in two different spheres in America?
On March 26, in movie theaters across the nation, those questions and others revolving around religious liberty in America will be robustly tackled. Actors, musicians and comedians will join Americans from across the country who have courageously stood up for the First Amendment principle of the separation of church and state.
Dubbed “Everything You Always Wanted to Know about the Separation of Church and State … but Were Afraid to Ask!,” the gathering will be simulcast in 25 cities nationwide.
Hosted by First Freedom First (FFF), the event is intended, organizers say, to celebrate Americans “who care about our First Amendment guarantee of religious freedom and the separation of church and state.”
FFF, a joint project of Americans United for Separation of Church and State and The Interfaith Alliance Foundation, was launched in 2006 to mobilize Americans from all walks of life in defense of church-state separation. Recently FFF ran television ads in several presidential primary states urging citizens to ask the candidates to elaborate on their understanding of religious liberty.
The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, Americans United executive director, and the Rev. Welton Gaddy, president of The Interfaith Alliance Foundation, will also participate in the simulcast, offering their perspectives on the raging battles over church-state separation.
Said Lynn, “Americans United has had the great fortune of standing with citizens who fought for the notion of keeping government and religion securely separate. The First Freedom First simulcast will share — and celebrate — some of the heroic stories of citizens who have stood up for religious liberty.
“In this heated political season, candidates of all stripes, whether running for a spot on the city council or the top position in the White House, will hear from the numerous voices in support of church-state separation,” continued Lynn. “We also expect an entertaining evening to boot.”
Peter Coyote, a celebrated Hollywood actor and filmmaker, will emcee the event, which is to include a live set by special guests, the Bacon Brothers. Movie star Kevin Bacon and his brother Michael formed the band more than 10 years ago and continue touring nationwide.
Actors and celebrities such as Michael J. Fox (“Family Ties” and “Spin City”), Jack Klugman (“The Odd Couple” and “Quincy, M.E.”), James Whitmore (“The Shawshank Redemption”), Wendy Malick (“Just Shoot Me!”), Dan Lauria (“The Wonder Years”), Catherine Dent (“The Shield”) and stand-up comic Marc Maron are also set to participate in the FFF event.
Americans United Field Director Beth Corbin, who is leading the First Freedom First project for AU, said the gathering should prove to be a lively and much-deserved celebration of some citizens who have boldly taken public stands to support the separation of church and state.
“We are thrilled that these celebrities are graciously adding their star-power to focus attention on church-state separation and some of its heroes,” Corbin said.
To learn more about the event, including the movie venues and how to get tickets, visit the First Freedom First Web site: www.firstfreedomfirst.org.