Americans United for Separation of Church and State threw a party Thursday night for Barry Lynn to mark his 20th year as its executive director. Before the Supreme Court, Congress and the public, Lynn has advocated the view that religious freedom is best preserved by keeping government and religion separate. Posters commissioned for the party at a downtown hotel drew a direct connection between Lynn and Thomas Jefferson, which radio host Bill Press said admiringly took a lot of chutzpah.
But amid the celebration there was a touch of despair in the air. In a conversation moderated by Press, Lynn and feminist Eleanor Smeal assessed the mostly bleak current state of their issues and causes.
The presidential race, Lynn said, is “religion-saturated in a way we have never seen before.” Three Republican candidates, he noted, have said God told them to run. The Supreme Court has used “standing” doctrine to limit the ability of litigants to challenge violations of the Establishment Clause, he said. And the Obama administration has “done more than Bush,” Lynn added, in supporting religious organizations with taxpayer money through “faith-based initiatives.”
For her part, Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation, said that after decades of progress for women, “I cannot believe we are fighting a right-wing takeover” in the coming election. “Some of the techniques we are using are not working.” In Mississippi and elsewhere, she said, ballot initiatives are being proposed that would restrict abortions further and define life as beginning at conception – which would threaten most forms of contraception. “Republicans are seeing how far they can go on abortion,” she said, asserting that some candidates are taking what amounts to a “women don’t count” position.
The bright spot for Smeal has been the Obama administration, which she said has been “the most inclusive White House we have ever seen.” Close to half of President Barack Obama’s judicial appointees have been women, she said: “strong women, feminists, progressives.” The Affordable Care Act, she added, is “amazing for women” in terms of benefits and equal treatment.
Asked if the nation is ready for a Mormon president, Lynn said probably so, even though a significant percentage of evangelical Christians say they would not vote for a Mormon. But he joked that those are probably the same voters who still think Obama is a Muslim, so for them, the choice is “Mormon or Muslim,” and they would likely opt for Mormon Mitt Romney over Obama.
By Tony Mauro