Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Is PBS airing right-wing propaganda?

By Diane Silver

It sure looks like PBS is shilling for the religious right, or so says Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

At issue is a new film airing on PBS called "The Wall of Separation." Lynn says the film promotes the debunked theory that the founders of our nation had no intention of separating church from the state.

The film, by the way, was written and directed by Brian Godawa. Lynn writes:
As I made clear in two letters to PBS, Godawa is a militant theocrat with close ties to Christian Reconstructionism, the most extreme faction of the Religious Right. He and his allies believe that Christians of his stripe should take control, not only of the government, but of all aspects of society - including the entertainment industry.

Earlier this year, Godawa took part in the "Issachar Project," a gathering of activists in Orange County, Calif., that, according to one organizer, is intended to bring about "a Christianization of the movie industry." Godawa's previous credits include a stint as movie reviewer for the Chalcedon Foundation, a Christian Reconstructionist outfit that advocates the death penalty for homosexuals, adulterers, fornicators, witches, incorrigible juvenile delinquents and those who spread false religions.

Godawa's PBS film - I will not dignify it with the term "documentary" - is part of the Religious Right's ongoing strategy to rewrite American history and portray church-state separation, a principle that is one of our nation's greatest contributions to governance and liberty, as somehow unhistorical and dangerous.

I can't find a listing for "The Wall of Separation" on either of my two local PBS stations, KCPT and KTWU. Lynn's post is just the most recent of a continuing series of criticisms of the film. I wonder if the critiques are having an effect.


UCCtruths said...


Barry Lynn and the Hypocrisy of Separation

Americans United for the Separation of Church and State (AU) purports to be a non-sectarian, non-partisan organization with no religious affiliation and its Executive Director, the Rev. Barry Lynn, is prominently featured on television news programs whenever issues of religion and government cross. Although Lynn prides himself as an independent arbiter of where the line between church and state meet, his silence on his own denomination’s encroachment on Jefferson’s wall of separation is not only hypocritical, it ultimately undermines his own mission.

Lynn and Americans United issue dozens of statements each year regarding church and state conflicts and, at times, go as far as go as far as challenging the issues in court. Last May, Lynn chastised a $150,000 appropriation

Barry Lynn, Hypocrisy, American United

the Maryland General Assembly granted for the National Baptist Congress of Christian Education (NBCCE) conference held in Baltimore. Lynn claimed the grant was “totally inappropriate and clearly unconstitutional.” He further stated that “religious groups should pass the collection plate to their own members, not the taxpayers.”

However, while Lynn was criticizing Maryland’s grant, his own denomination, the United Church of Christ (UCC), was busy securing a grant from the state of Connecticut for its convention (called a General Synod) which is being held later this month in Hartford. Lynn has been noticeably silent about the Connecticut grant even though it is clearly a greater offense to the Establishment Clause of the federal constitution than the Maryland grant.

The differences between the Maryland and Connecticut grants are dramatic. After a careful legal review, the Maryland Department of Budget & Management clearly distinguished secular events the grant could support from non-secular events the grant could not support. The non-secular events supported by the grant included additional transportation resources to help ease the strain that 50,000 convention attendees would put on public transportation services. Explicitly, access to the subsidized transportation services was not “restricted to members of a particular sect.”

In contrast to the Maryland grant, the Connecticut grant is being used exclusively to pay a $100,000 fee to the Hartford Civic Center for facilities to host the United Church of Christ General Synod which is clearly a secular event with worship services where the primary audience is UCC delegates and members.

Some have argued that the Connecticut grant serves the secular purpose of promoting economic development that the approximately 8,000 attendees to the UCC General Synod will bring to Hartford. Constitutionally speaking, the distinction is not dependent on the residual economic benefit that the aid could bring but on the religious effect of the aid.

The Maryland Department of Budget & Management defined the religious effect of their grant on similar court cases involving papal visits to Philadelphia and Washington D.C. In Gilfillan v. City of Philadelphia, the Third Circuit determined that aid for the building of a platform in a public park for a liturgical service rendered the religious effect of the aid “both plain and primary.” In contrast, O’Hair v. Andrus, the District of Columbia Circuit determined that the “provision of police, sanitation and related public services is a legitimate function of government and not an ‘establishment’ of religion.”

The distinction between the Connecticut grant and the Maryland grant couldn’t be clearer. In the Maryland case, the grant was used to help ease the burden on public transportation. In the Connecticut case, the grant is being used to defray the cost of the facilities to host a clearly religious event for the United Church of Christ.

When they were initially contacted last June about the Connecticut grant in light of Lynn’s public condemnation of the Maryland grant, Americans United promised that a complete investigation would be made. At a public church and state discussion forum in Columbus, Ohio last October, Lynn was asked specifically about the Americans United investigation. Lynn expressed concern about the grant but noted that further investigation was still needed.

Now, within a week of the UCC General Synod in Hartford and nearly a year after Americans United began their investigation, Lynn has yet to publicly disclose the results of his investigation into the grant that will benefit his own denomination.

Lynn is in a unique position on this issue. Part of his attraction as a public figure is his status as an ordained minister which he uses to legitimize his concern about the separation between church and state. However, if Lynn is incapable of addressing clear concerns that involve his own denomination, what credibility does he or Americans United have?


Diane Silver said...

Wow! This comment came in fast. You know you've made it in the blogging world when attacks come within minutes of making a post.

More on this soon...

Diane Silver said...

Here is Barry Lynn's reply to these criticism on his organization's blog.