Reverend Barry Lynn Defends the Censorship of Religious Newspapers
In a letter to the editor in Saturday’s Projo, Reverend Barry Lynn, Executive Director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, defended his organization’s position in favor of government censorship of print media. Americans United has filed an IRS complaint against the Diocese of Providence for publishing Bishop Thomas Tobin’s criticism of Rudolph Giuliani’s public stance on abortion in its weekly newspaper, the Rhode Island Catholic. Writing that “free speech is not a plausible defense” (of course, to censors, it never is), Rev. Lynn cited a 1992 court case that he believes set a precedent limiting the content that religious newspapers are allowed to publish…
In 1992, a church in New York ran newspaper ads advising people not to vote for Bill Clinton. The IRS revoked the church’s tax-exempt status, and the church sued to get it back. A federal appeals court ruled unanimously against the church, rejecting its free-speech argument.However, for this precedent to apply, you have to accept the view that newspaper op-eds are forms of paid political advertising, implying — if you really believe in treating religious and non-religious organizations without bias — that secular, corporate-owned media should also be prohibited from editorializing on political candidates since campaign finance laws expressly prohibit corporations from making expenditures “expressly advocating the election or defeat of one or more clearly identified candidate(s) or the candidates of a clearly identified political party”.
In other words, if Rev. Lynn believes that the IRS should crack down on the Rhode Island Catholic for using Mayor Giuliani’s name in an op-ed, shouldn’t he also believe that the FEC should crack down on the Belo Corporation for doing the same?
The only way to apply the 1992 precedent to Bishop Tobin’s op-ed without making a case that all political discourse on American op-ed pages needs to be shut down is to assert that diocesan newspapers like the Rhode Island Catholic are not entitled to the full range of First Amendment protections enjoyed by “real” newspapers, i.e. that religious newspapers are second-class media organizations entitled to fewer first-amendment protections than non-religious ones. Does advocating for restrictions on the free-press rights of religious newspapers sound like a reasonable interpretation of the “separation of church and state” to you, or does it sound more like Americans United for Separation of Church and State represents a fringe that believes not so much that government should be neutral towards religion, but that government should actively discourage the expression of religious belief in public?