James Carville may have been right in 1992, when he displayed a sign in the office of presidential candidate Bill Clinton saying, “It’s The Economy, Stupid.”
But this is 2012, and, while the economy is still very much an issue in the presidential campaign, Barry Lynn sees a different sign. His sign reads, “It’s Religion, Stupid, Not The Economy.” He believes it should be posted in front of every potential voter.
Lynn has been the executive director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State (now called Americans United) since 1992. He’s also a lawyer and an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ. For the past two decades he has worked on church-state issues and efforts to preserve the first amendment to the Constitution.
In a speech to a standing-room only crowd sponsored by Washington University’s Danforth Center on Religion and Politics in March, Lynn set forth his thesis that our current presidential campaign is all about religion and is saturated with Christian fundamentalism.
“In this campaign, several of the candidates from one party declared that they were chosen by God to run for President. Three of these candidates have now dropped out. Perhaps this was a failure to communicate,” he joked.
On a more serious note, Lynn acknowledged his growing concern that the Bible, rather than the Constitution, is becoming the basis for federal law. “Are we electing a theologian-in chief, or a commander-in-chief?,” he asked. “We should be using the values of the Constitution, not the values of the Bible, as a basis for for legislation.”
Democrats are working hard not to let the Republicans get too far ahead in the “Jesus momentum,” Lynn said. He faulted Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius for her decision to deny access to the Plan B contraceptive against the advice of scientific recommendations, and President Barack Obama for his regular attendance at prayer breakfasts, which are sponsored by conservative Christian groups.
Lynn took aim at media outlets across the country that continue to promote the idea that there is a “War Against Christianity” going on, and faulted the idea that churches should be able to engage in partisan political activities or endorse candidates from the pulpit. And he took aim at the so-called “faith-based initiatives,” which enable religious organizations to get public funds to carry out some of their programs.
“The greed of some of these groups is unconscionable,” he said, noting that two groups in particular, The Salvation Army and World Vision, “just suck up the funds.”
“Religious freedom used to mean the right to worship as you please,” Lynn said. “Now it means the right to get huge amounts of money for your ministry and not obey laws you don’t agree with.” He faulted Catholic Charities for not giving assistance to victims of sex trafficking and called on President Obama to stop trying to craft compromises with organizations that rely on their “conscience.” He also condemned ongoing efforts to fund private religious schools with tax dollars and criticized the renewed effort to provide school vouchers.
Returning to the theme of the election, Lynn noted that among our Senators and Representatives today, there is only one “non-theist,” Rep. Pete Stark of California. “We have to find a way to elect people without regard to their religion,” he said. And circling back to his reverence for the Constitution and the First Amendment, he reminded the audience: “Americans United has proved, time and again, that the greatest thing this country has created is the separation of church and state. If we give this up, it’s like a suicide pact with the Constitution.”