The Progressive


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For Immediate Release

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Americans United Urges Congress to Uphold Church-State Separation, Resist Religous Right Pressure

It’s Religious Minorities and Nonbelievers Whose Religious Liberty Is in Greatest Danger, Not Members of Majority Faith, Says AU’s Lynn


There are very real and imminent threats to the basic rights and freedoms of religious minorities and nonbelievers in the United States, Americans United for Separation of Church and State has told a U.S. House panel.

The Rev. Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United, testified Oct. 26 before the House Judiciary Committee's Subcommittee on the Constitution as part of a hearing on "The State of Religious Liberty in the United States."

Lynn told the panel that even though the United States is one of the most religiously diverse countries in the world with some of the greatest religious liberties, serious threats to religious freedom remain.

In written testimony submitted to the subcommittee, Lynn said religious minorities and nonbelievers "are being denied the basic rights that many of us practicing a majority faith take for granted every day."

Lynn said those who practice less popular faiths as well as nonbelievers are often subjected to religious coercion, discrimination and employment bias. Minorities face pressures at public schools, Muslims have difficulty building mosques and nonbelievers are denied jobs at publicly funded "faith-based" agencies that are allowed to discriminate in hiring on religious grounds.

Lynn urged the House panel to be wary of demands for overly broad exemptions for religious organizations from laws ensuring Americans' civil rights and their access to medical care and reproductive health services. (Other witnesses at the hearing - representatives of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and TV preacher Pat Robertson's American Center for Law and Justice - argued in favor of broad exemptions for religious organizations.)

Warning that such exemptions can harm innocent third parties, Lynnobserved, "The more expansive an exemption, the more likely it is to violate the Constitution."

Lynn also urged the House panel to be wary of some of the "horror stories" it will hear from Religious Right representatives who claim their faith is in danger and that they are victims of persecution.

"We also urge the Committee to be discerning about the anecdotes it hears today and in the future," Lynn said. "We have encountered claims from the Religious Right in the past that, although based on a kernel of truth, often end up being false or exaggerated."

Lynn also called on Congress to keep government out of religion and allow people to practice their faiths as they see fit.

Americans United is a religious liberty watchdog group based in Washington, D.C. Founded in 1947, the organization educates Americans about the importance of church-state separation in safeguarding religious freedom.