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?

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Anthony
Anthony
14 years ago

Lynn’s group is nothing more than a typical left-wing front group.
Lynn talks about the “religious right” being the greatest threat to “religious freedom” but does not criticize the activities of religious groups like the Southern Christian Leadership Conference that were specifically formed for political causes supported by the left.
The original purpose of builidng a wall between church and state was to prevent the establishment of a state religion or the creation of a nation led by a religious leader that would run contrary to the notion of a Republic.
Constitutionally speaking, separation of church and state was not even mentioned by the Supreme Court until 1878 and didn’t become an informal “principle” until the Court mentioned it multiple times in the 20th century, starting in 1947.
Political discourse necessarily involves the discussion of moral issues and as such, religious leaders are free to offer their opinions. The abolition of slavery and the civil rights era would have been delayed for decades had it not been for leadership from religious leaders.
What makes Lynn’s group so ridiculous is that it only takes on religious organizations with political views different than his own, not religious organizations which hold similar views.
You’ll find that Lynn spends precious little time criticizing Hillary Clinton for physically appearing in African-American churches to talk politics during the middle of a religious service, yet he’ll take on a Catholic leader for writing about a self-proclaimed Catholic politician’s views on a moral issue.

Mike
Mike
14 years ago

Well now-to be fair the issue is one of tax-deductability. To call it “censorship” is the type of Jerzykian style of grammar we usually see on another local blog.

Rhody
Rhody
14 years ago

The Tobins, Robertsons, Dobsons, etc. of the world are smart and crafty enough to know just how far they can go without legally endangering their tax exemptions.
If a big-time figure emerges on the religious left (not just a guy whose conviently pops the word ‘Rev’ like Sharpton or Jackson), this issue could get explosive.
Americans United for Church and State has a legitimate reason to exist: to make sure one religion doesn’t benefit from the government to the exclusion of others. If it helps protect us from a government controlled by religious fundamentalists (be they Judeo-Christian or Islamic – there’s not much difference on the fundamentalist front), it’s necessary.

Anthony
Anthony
14 years ago

Rhody, the issue won’t “get explosive” “if a big time figure emerges on the left”. We’ve already been there? How about the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.?
The left has been trying to demonize evangelical Christians for years. What makes it so riduculous is that I’ve never heard an evangelical call for a theocracy nor do I know of a single evangelical Christian theocracy that exists, or has ever existed, on the planet.
On the other hand, I know of several atheistic dictatorships such as Cuba and North Korea that are the very embodiment of Lynn’s vision of separation of church and state.
I know of several Islamic theocracies that exist, but contrary to your statement, Lynn’s group is really just focused on evangelical Christians and to a lesser extent, the Catholic Church..
History tells me that there is little threat to the Constitution from evangelical Christians. Puritans were the very embodiment of radical evangelical Christianity, yet they created the nation that gave Jefferson the opportunity to produce his writings.
The greater threat to the Constitution is from individuals and entities that would change the republican form of government.

Rhody
Rhody
14 years ago

We have to reach back 40 years for a religious left figure to rival the titans of the religious right. Not a good situation.
For years, the left has seen evangelicals as a monolith, but times might be changing. As you see evangelicals (particularly younger ones) grow increasingly disenchanted with the Bush administration and GOP, question their own leaders who obsess about abortion and gays to the exclusion of other issues, and somebody like Rick Warren inviting Barack Obama to a major evangelical event a few months ago (and Warren’s taken some guff over that invite), a lefty religious leader could emerge.
And the good Rev. Dobson will become even more angry than he’s ever gotten watching “Friends,” “South Park” or Dan Rather. Men of the cloth turning the long knives on each other may prove entertaining across the political spectrum.

Mike
Mike
14 years ago

Posted by Anthony at July 3, 2007 1:06 PM I’ve never heard an evangelical call for a theocracy nor do I know of a single evangelical Christian theocracy that exists, or has ever existed, on the planet. On the other hand, I know of several atheistic dictatorships such as Cuba and North Korea that are the very embodiment of Lynn’s vision of separation of church and state. I know of several Islamic theocracies that exist, but contrary to your statement, Lynn’s group is really just focused on evangelical Christians and to a lesser extent, the Catholic Church.. XXX And one Jewish theocracy which is passing a law mandating that only members of that religion can hold the Presidency. I am sure (LOL) that all the Leftist Free Mumia!, Free Lori Berenson! seperation activists and ACLU will be up in arms over this theocratic measure. July 4, 2007 A clear majority of Israelis – 64 percent – including 31% of Arabs, take a positive view of legislation that would ensure that only a Jew can be elected prime minister, according to a new poll. Seventy-seven percent of respondents support equal treatment for all Israelis without, regardless of ethnic or religious background. However only 61% said Jews and Arabs should be treated equally with regard to budget allocations. Researchers questioned a representative sample of 609 Israelis in Hebrew, Russian and Arabic. The survey was commissioned by the Israel office of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation policy institute and conducted by Jerusalem-based Keevoon Research and Strategy organization, and had a margin of error of 4.1%. While only 47% of Arab Israelis said Israel’s democratic character was more important than its Jewish nature, an even lower proportion – 37% – of Hebrew- and Russian-speaking Israelis felt the state’s Jewish character was more important than its… Read more »

Anthony
Anthony
14 years ago

Rhody,
The “titans of the religious right”? Talk about exaggeration. Who are these so-called “titans”?
Jerry Falwell is dead.
Pat Robertson’s 1988 presidential campaign was over after the first primary in New Hampshire and he finished well behind other Republicans. That same year the Rev. Jesse Jackson finished second only to Mike Dukakis on the Democrat side.
So who does that leave? Maybe James Dobson, a guy that most Americans have never heard of.
The left has been using the threat of evangelical Christians “taking over” the country for years to scare its base. But it’s just that—a scare tactic that uses fear to build political support.
Years ago, Southern Democrats warned against voting for Catholic politicians beacuse their loyalty was to Rome not to the US. Now we’re talking about evangelicals. The irony is that the “Hub” of New England, the Massachusetts Bay Colony, was founded by Christian evangelicals.

rhody
rhody
14 years ago

Falwell is dead. But when he was alive, Republicans who wanted to get anywhere nationally had to kiss his ring. Look what happened to McCain in 2000 when he didn’t. McCain made sure he didn’t make the same mistake this time.
Robertson still has his TV show. And look at how many of his Regent University graduates are employed in Bush’s Justice Department.
Dobson doesn’t maintain as high a profile in the secular world as Falwell and Robertson, but has established himself as the modern conservative evangelical kingmaker. His persona reminds me of a quote from Ralph Reed back when he ran the Christian Coalition: “Our enemies won’t know what hit them until they’re in the body bag.” Dobson won’t do CNN or spar with Bill Maher, like Falwell did – he keeps it close to the vest.
As for AUFSOCAS, the argument that they’re looking to suppress relgion is a canard. They just don’t want to see the establishment of a state religion (trust me, if we lived in Iran, we’d all long for an organization like that).

Mike
Mike
14 years ago

As for AUFSOCAS, the argument that they’re looking to suppress relgion is a canard. They just don’t want to see the establishment of a state religion (trust me, if we lived in Iran, we’d all long for an organization like that).
Posted by rhody at July 5, 2007 11:46 AM
XXX
A state religion/ You mean like Israel? I see the Left really up in arms about that apartheid theocracy> LOL.

Anthony
Anthony
14 years ago

Rhody,
How many Regent University grads are there in DOJ?
Sorry, I don’t buy the whole right-wing conspiracy thing.

Sally
13 years ago

If this man (so called Rev) is not after the Judo Christian and those on the right, then why is it that those on the left never, I mean never, get bothered by him??????

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