Of Piety & Politics

Throwing The Book At Robertson & Co.

TV preacher Pat Robertson is after me again. His most recent assault, which aired on his Chris­tian Broad­cast­ing Network  May 11, relied on all kinds of old misinformation. I really wish he would make up new misinformation. 

Robertson cut loose moments after a “700 Club” news segment that featured a few of my taped comments about “faith-based” prison ministries, including one in Iowa that is the subject of Americans United litigation.

The segment itself was not so bad, but Robertson felt compelled to chime in with his own thoughts. As usual, they were strange. He grumbled to co-host Terry Meeuwsen, “Barry Lynn is so extreme, he has said that if a church is burning down, the city shouldn’t bring the fire department and trucks to spray water on the church because that violates separation of church and state.”

Robertson was apparently just getting warmed up – pardon the pun. He went on to assert that the American Civil Liberties Union and the “Communist Internationale” had “pulled a secret takeover” of Americans United! Unfor­tunately, Robertson ran out of time before he could link me to the sinking of the Titanic and the alleged 1947 UFO crash near Roswell, N.M.

­We put out a press release to clear the record, again. AU’s communications department is clever, but all they had to do this time was update an old press release from the last time Robertson made these accusations. (Yes, a few members of the press have debunked these claims before, including the utterly false fire truck story.) We did add this time, for dramatic and comic emphasis, a sentence in which I assure Robertson, “If your studio catches on fire, I’ll expect the Virginia Beach Fire Department to come and put it out. If they don’t, give me a call and we’ll sue them.”

Regular readers of this column know the fire story is false and understand that I don’t take my orders from Fidel Castro or a Communist Party cabal. But others are not so sure. Some people hear this nonsense and think there’s something to it.

I remember a minister in Berkeley, Calif., who came up to me after a speech to tell me that he didn’t believe the bad things TV preachers said about me, but that he knew some of his colleagues did. I explained that even if I am on television with one of these fibbers, I can’t spend all my time rebutting their false accusations because I wouldn’t be able to make any of my own points. He said he understood that perfectly.

For some years, I’ve thought about fleshing out my views by writing a book about my role in the fight to preserve church-state separation. But I didn’t want to just debunk lies told about me. I also wanted the book to include sound arguments for why the separation of church and state is a great, world-class idea, especially for religious people.  

That seed has now germinated. A literary agent from California approached me last year, and we sent a proposal to some major publishers. I’m happy to report that interest was high, and that I signed on with Harmony Books, an imprint of Random House.

The result is that on October 3, 2006, bookstores and internet sites will be selling Piety & Politics: The Right-Wing Assault on Religious Freedom. I coauthored a book on religious freedom rights in 1995 for an academic press, but this is my first foray into solo book publishing with a major firm. Naturally, I hope it is a successful one.

Robertson has written several books, and I wanted him to know about mine. During my interview for the news piece on faith-based prisons, I asked reporter Melissa Charbonneau to tell her boss about my book. I suggested he could have me down for a one-on-one interview.

I don’t seriously think I’ll be invited to the CBN studios for an on-air chat, but I wish I were because I’d like Robertson to hear some of the stories in this book – stories that have led me to conclude that whenever the government tells you it wants to “help” you become religious or instill faith in your children, your first instinctive response should be to run away in horror.

Random House is working with me on a study guide for the book; I’m seeking out well-known folks to read the galleys and provide those endorsements on the back cover. I’m also talking to publicists about launching the tome and using my fall speaking schedule to advance the ideas in it. It’s pretty exciting stuff. 

If you want to a reserve a copy now, you can place a pre-order at online sellers like www.amazon.com. Once you’ve done that, the book will be sent out as soon as it is publicly available. This is not necessarily a commercial. I just thought you might want to know how to get the book right away for some Christian Coalition member or TV preacher you think could use a copy for his or her library.

Here’s hoping they use it to get their facts right next time.

Barry W. Lynn is executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.