Americans disunited

Every once in a while, I visit the website for Americans United for Separation of Church and State. Especially when I need a laugh.

Americans United claims to be an avuncular group of down-home folk interested in protecting religious rights by ensuring that lines of church-state separation are clearly marked. Actually, it is an extremist group interested in kicking faith out of the public arena entirely.

Among hot-button issues in which Americans United would deny people of faith a role in the public arena are the same-sex marriage debate, voucher or tuition-aid for students to attend faith-based schools, prayer at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y., (or any public institution) and any religious expression on public property.

What I really get a kick out of is Americans United’s cleansing of its history, as shown on its website:

“Americans United for Separation of Church and State was founded in 1947 by a broad coalition of religious, educational and civic leaders. At that time, proposals were pending in the U.S. Congress to extend government aid to private religious schools. Many Americans opposed this idea, insisting that government support for religious education would violate church-state separation. The decision was made to form a national organization to promote this point of view and defend the separation principle.”

That’s really precious, but it’s pretty far from the truth. The organization was founded in 1947 by Methodist Bishop G. Bromley Oxnam. It was named “Protestants and Other Americans United for the Separation of Church and State.” The name was as exclusive as it sounds, and its enemy clearly defined. It was definitely not for Catholics because it was aimed specifically at Catholics.

Everything the organization issued spoke of dark Catholic plots by scheming hierarchs to rob American freedoms by subverting the ballot box through the ignorant mobs they controlled. And some of their big issues had nothing to do with schools. They vehemently opposed the appointment of a U.S. ambassador to the Vatican. They also wanted to deny Catholic clergy the right to vote on general principles; and cardinals in particular since they voted in “foreign” papal elections.

Anyway, at some point they dropped the “Protestants and Other” nomenclature and settled on Americans United. And they have gone merrily on their way ever since.

I will give them credit. They were founded in 1947 as an exclusively anti-Catholic hate group. Now they hate just about everyone who harbors religious belief in their soul and would dare to make that belief public.

Perusing their website recently, I came across an editorial from the Church State magazine, their public rag. They were arguing that churches that fear they will be forced to conduct same-sex marriages are trying to “foment dissention by making Americans believe that church rights are threatened.”

It’s true. No court, no legislature, no president, no Americans United will ever be able to force the Catholic Church to celebrate a same-sex marriage. The Church can’t because that is not a marriage.

But what Americans United ignores is how difficult the state can make it for those churches that refuse to knuckle-under on same-sex marriage. We have already seen how the Church has been kicked out of adoption ministry, shoved out of aid to victims of sex-trafficking, and its charitable works threatened for not accepting abortion or gay marriages.

There is a long list of pain that the state can and will inflict on churches as this cultural war settles in for the long haul. And Americans United will be first in line to support that pain. 

Robert P. Lockwood writes from Pennsylvania.